Advocates press for health care overhaul

Posted Sept. 09, 2008, at 9:13 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Advocates for national health care reform on Tuesday announced the launch of a door-to-door campaign in the Bangor area, aimed at boosting voter registration and building support for an overhaul of the nation’s health care system.

Citing corporate greed and lack of accountability to insurance policyholders and taxpayers, Ben Chin, an organizer with the Maine chapter of Health Care for America Now and a member of the Maine People’s Alliance, said Maine voters must add their voices to the call for national reform.

“Everyday people must find the courage to speak up if we are to win the health care reform [that] our economy, our families and our communities so desperately need,” he said, speaking at a news conference in Bangor.

The two politically liberal nonprofit organizations, Health Care for America Now and the Maine People’s Alliance, have teamed to promote making health care reform the No. 1 priority for the next president and the incoming U.S. Congress.

At a rally in Augusta in July, the two groups said they didn’t have a specific reform plan developed but that every American should have access to health coverage through either a private insurance plan or a national health plan similar to those available in many other countries. They also cited the need for greater regulation of private insurers to disable the “obscene profits” of the insurance industry.

Tuesday’s announcement built on that theme, took specific aim at the largest health insurance company in the state, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Maine. Chin referenced a report released in August showing that Anthem’s profits in Maine increased nearly 90 percent between 2004 and 2007, while the number of Maine people covered by Anthem policies rose by only 2.4 percent. The company’s profit in 2007 was $75.7 million, according to the report. The information was drawn from public data filed with the state’s Bureau of Insurance.

Chin said Anthem’s lack of response to the groups’ demand in August for more financial information, including corporate salaries and money paid to Anthem’s corporate parent, Wellpoint, is emblematic of the industry’s priorities.

“Anthem is clearly not accountable to us, even though it’s our money going into lining its bottomless pockets,” he said.

Anthem spokesman Mark Ishkanian said Tuesday that the company is not interested in “playing games” with the two organizations. While not disputing the information used in compiling the August report, Ishkanian said Anthem’s profits in Maine over the past eight years have averaged just 3.9 percent.

For any group to focus on the for-profit status of insurance companies is “wrong on so many levels,” he said. He said the biggest factors in increasing insurance premiums are the growing cost of the health care delivered by hospitals, doctors and other providers, as well as the high rate of usage by American health care consumers.

Anthem will continue to participate in state and national discussions on ways to improve access to health care, Ishkanian said. But groups like Health Care for America Now and the Maine’s People Alliance are “just throwing grenades,” he added.

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