Saturday Mailbox

SATURDAY MAILBOX

October 05, 2002

Selling insurer wouldn't benefit state consumers

Now that experts suggest CareFirst was undervalued, perhaps by hundreds of millions of dollars, when the company negotiated a purchase price ("CareFirst worth more, outside analyst reports," Sept. 10), we need to answer this question: Is the sale of such an important nonprofit health insurer in the best interest of Maryland consumers?

The valuation analysis for the Maryland insurance commissioner by the Blackstone Group is just one of a series of troubling reports about the proposed sale.

The Blackstone report shows that consumers, hospitals and other health providers would be losers. For instance, WellPoint Health Networks intends to reduce CareFirst's medical expenses, because the company devotes a higher percentage of its premium dollars to medical care than most insurers.

The acquiring company, based in California, also says it will make CareFirst more profitable through "tighter financial controls" and "better underwriting discipline."

That translates to forcing customers to pay more out-of-pocket medical costs and higher premiums in an environment in which consumers and businesses already are reeling from double-digit health insurance cost increases.

Some other likely steps to achieve higher profitability include denying more claims, making it tougher for those in poor health to get insurance and lowering reimbursement rates to doctors and hospitals.

Blackstone also found that bonuses for CareFirst executives (totaling $41.3 million) became a de-facto increase in purchase price, diverting dollars from a state health care foundation. So did a proposed executive severance package (totaling $47.9 million).

Even if this report pushes up the purchase price, the proposal ought to be rejected, It harms, rather than helps, Marylanders.

We need to find ways to keep CareFirst a nonprofit insurer and return the company's focus to its historic mission: providing broad health care coverage to Marylanders (including coverage for hard-to-insure and uninsured individuals) at a reasonable price.

Calvin M. Pierson

Elkridge

The writer is president of the Maryland Hospital Association.

Chinese medicine isn't that different

I am the Johns Hopkins physician mentioned in The Sun's article "Doctors from Hopkins improve China's care" (Aug. 29). And I think the article created the misleading impression that China's health care system is inadequate and that its physicians are, by American standards, ill-trained.

After working for six weeks in China, my impression is quite to the contrary. I found the staff at Beijing's Chaoyang Hospital intelligent, well-trained and dedicated. And about 90 percent of their medical practice is the same or similar to the medicine practiced in the United States.

Until recently, the training of physicians in China has been based on an apprenticeship system, a system common in the United States in the early 20th century and still practiced in many countries today.

This system has produced some excellent physicians. However, it lacks consistency and continuity among all physicians trained.

One of the primary roles of the Johns Hopkins Center for International Emergency, Disaster and Refugee Studies' program in China is to demonstrate a new education system that will ensure all physicians are trained consistently.

A second goal is to teach the Western medical practices that are used in U.S. emergency departments.

Finally, in the case of the patient with the rapid heart rate who was mentioned in The Sun, his treatment was completely appropriate and virtually identical to that provided in the United States. All the necessary equipment and medicines were available, and the physicians were well-trained and competent to handle his medical issues.

Dr. Michael R. DiNapoli

Baltimore

The writer is a member of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Recruiting in D.C. to enliven Baltimore

The Sun's article "City tries to lure residents from D.C." (Sept. 15) was an insightful look into a growing trend, and we applaud the coverage.

But reporter Molly Knight was incorrect in stating that this campaign was launched by the city. It was in fact developed by Live Baltimore, created by local advertising agency Gilden Integrated and funded by the Goldseker Foundation and the Maryland Transit Authority.

As the article noted, word of mouth has been a powerful factor, but we are not just waiting for this buzz to percolate on its own. We are fueling that tide by bringing our message to the people. We host regular social events in D.C. and invite our "city living ambassadors," who are currently commuting, to talk with these prospective residents.

At a recent home-buying fair in Washington, hundreds of people commented that they had seen our ads and wanted to know if you really could buy an attractive home for $80,000.

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