August 30, 2013

Hundreds oppose Anthem, MaineHealth plan

BY JESSICA HALL

AUBURN -- Hundreds of concerned Anthem subscribers and residents of central Maine gathered on Thursday before the Maine Bureau of Insurance to speak against a proposed partnership between insurer Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield and MaineHealth.

The public hearing was the third of four sessions throughout the state on whether Anthem can transfer its existing individual subscribers to new insurance plans. The move would affect about 9,000 people throughout the state, Anthem said. Anthem insures 320,000 people in Maine across many types of plans.

Anthem and MaineHealth already won approval from the state Bureau of Insurance for the insurer's plan to partner with MaineHealth on the new health insurance exchange. The network and pricing of the plan already have been approved.

The proposed Anthem-MaineHealth pact would include 32 of the state's 38 hospitals, and would exclude the three hospitals owned by Central Maine Healthcare of Lewiston, as well as Parkview Adventist in Brunswick, York Hospital in York and Mercy Hospital in Portland.

Anthem, the state's largest health insurer, and MaineHealth, the state's largest network of hospitals and care providers including Maine Medical Center in Portland, want to offer the insurance network on the state's new health exchange being created under the federal Affordable Care Act.

Central Maine HealthCare has slammed the proposed Anthem-MaineHealth network as discriminating against insurance subscribers in central and western Maine, who would have to travel farther to reach doctors participating in the plan.

Scores of people at the public hearing wore neon green T-shirts bearing the slogan "Please keep care local." The T-shirts were provided by Central Maine Medical Center, which has slammed the proposed Anthem-MaineHealth deal.

Anthem recently sent letters to its individual subscribers telling them of the plan to switch their existing health plans to ones that adhere to the Affordable Care Act.

Pam Peters, an individual Anthem subscriber, said the letter was confusing and upsetting.

"If we don't do anything, we're going to be switched. To do that is unjust. It should be 'I get to make a choice,' not 'I have a choice made for me,'" Peters said.

The crowd, gathered on Thursday night at Central Maine Community College, clapped and cheered for speakers. None of the dozens of speakers during the three-hour hearing voiced support for the Anthem-MaineHealth partnership.

"If you cut out a whole section of the state, those people are going to have to travel hours to Maine Medical," said Mary Zurhorst, of Rumford. "For people who aren't well, it's a hardship financially, mentally and physically to travel. We're not a rich community. We're cutting out a whole group of people in central Maine. We're human beings and we deserve health care."

Anthem said subscribers have a choice of their plans with MaineHealth, as well as a competing plan offered by Maine Community Health Options. Anthem said some subscribers may want to save money by using the narrow network plan with MaineHealth.

"There are opportunities for consumers to make decisions for a lower-cost option. Some people will want to do that," Anthem spokesman Chris Dugan said.

"MaineHealth is banking on the fact this is a poor area," said Leslie Colburn, registered nurse. "Greed and politics are the motivation here. Health care needs to stay local."

Chuck Gill, spokesman for Central Maine Medical Center, said the hospital has been getting concerned calls and questions from patients who are concerned about the prospect of changing health plans.

"Maine people are too smart to be fooled by Anthem and MaineHealth. People deserve better. There are two Portland companies telling people it's OK to have to change doctors and drive a long distance for care," Gill said.

Bill Young, a former chief executive of Central Maine Medical Center, said that hospital was excluded from the Anthem-MaineHealth network because CMMC has a long history of competing and siphoning away patients from MaineHealth's Maine Medical Center.

"Maine Medical Center, to the citizens of this community, they are the evil empire," Young said. "I can understand our nonrelationship with MMC. What I can't understand is why an insurance company that is committed to the state of Maine would be doing this."

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