Judge to hear plea to block sale of health care provider

PrimeHealth patients may suffer, petition says

April 08, 2001|By Walter F. Roche Jr. | Walter F. Roche Jr.,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore Circuit Court judge will hear a last-minute plea tomorrow to block the sale of PrimeHealth Corp., which serves 19,000 patients and has been in receivership for more than two years.

In a motion filed Friday, lawyers for the original owners of the Lanham managed-care company argued that the pending sale could jeopardize the patients' health care. According to the petition, a sale to Amerigroup Inc., a Prime- Health competitor, is about to be finalized.

A spokeswoman for the Maryland Insurance Administration said the agency will respond to the request for a preliminary injunction at the hearing before Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan. State officials have acknowledged that negotiations for a sale continue, but have declined to elaborate.

PrimeHealth was formed nearly five years ago by Christian Chinwuba, a Prince George's County radiologist who became the key prosecution witness in the extortion and bribery trial of former state Sen. Larry Young. Young was acquitted of the charges but was expelled from the state Senate.

One of a handful of companies still participating in the statewide Health Choice program, Prime- Health serves about 4,000 patients in the Baltimore area. Amerigroup serves 103,000 patients, and its service area overlaps most of the territory served by PrimeHealth.

PrimeHealth was placed in receivership in 1998 by state Insurance Commissioner Steven B. Larsen.

In the 14-page petition, Chinwuba's attorneys note that state insurance officials had concluded that payment rates for PrimeHealth were too low. The petition asks, "How will Amerigroup or any other MCO sustain the healthcare services needed by these members?"

The attorneys also asked Kaplan to order state health officials to provide justification for lowering PrimeHealth's reimbursement rates.

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