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BY COLUMNISTS

| Joe Charlebois | Guest Columnist | Harry M. Covert | Norman M. Covert | Ken Kellar | Patricia A. Kelly | Edward Lulie III | Tom McLaughlin | Cindy A. Rose | Richard B. Weldon Jr. |

DOCUMENTS


The Tentacle


July 11, 2003

Just When You Thought It Was Safe

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

What is a "news junkie?" A news junkie reads several daily papers, watches political talk shows, and listens to news radio.

I confess my news addiction. I read the Frederick News Post, the Hagerstown Herald Mail, The (Baltimore) Sun, The Washington Post, and The Gazette (on line). I watch local news, Meet the Press (Sundays), The O'Reilly Factor, and flip between MSNBC, Fox News, and CNN. I listen to WFMD, CSPAN radio, and yes, even National Public Radio.

It was during my daily spin through The Washington Post on Monday, July 7th, that I read the outrageous comments of one Lawrence Mirel, the Insurance Commissioner of the District of Columbia.

I've talked a lot about my work on the CareFirst situation during the last General Assembly Session. I've tried to help you understand why I believe we were right to demand reforms from the management and Board of Directors of CareFirst.

I have explained my understanding of the rationale behind the attempted sale to WellPoint Health Networks, Inc. The impact of our legislative solution to the attempted sale included the replacement of several Maryland-oriented members, review of executive compensation by the Maryland Insurance Commissioner, and a commitment to re-focus on the original mission.

In the July 7, 2003, Post Business Section, D.C. Insurance Commissioner Lawrence Mirel is quoted as saying: "Who the hell are they?" (Referring to the Maryland General Assembly). He further comments: "CareFirst is not a Maryland government property."

This guy is ignorant, stupid, or severely mentally deficient. Fortunately, Insurance Commissioner Al Redmer, a former delegate from Baltimore County, serves Maryland insurance consumer's best interests. Commissioner Redmer continues a tradition begun by his predecessor, Steve Larson.

The whole CareFirst debacle came to light after a year-long review of the details of the sale by Commissioner Larson. He determined that the conduct of the management and board of directors were deficient in fulfilling their oversight role, and that the best interests of health care consumers in Maryland were relegated to the back of the CareFirst bus as it careened toward a for-profit conversion and sale.

"Mirel, The Magnificently Ignorant" cites his concerns over a perceived loss of control for the district as a direct result of the Maryland General Assembly's actions. As my proof of his monumental buffoonery, listen to "Mirel, The Cranially Diminished's" own words: "They (CareFirst) run a pretty good ship."

I guess he got his naval metaphors mixed up. I think he meant to say that CareFirst almost ran a pretty good ship aground. "Mirel, The Universally Nutty," says that CareFirst CEO William L. Jews deserves both his salary ($2 million in 2000) and the multi-million golden parachute that awaited him if the conversion and sale had gone through.

"Mirel, The Monumentally Dim," explains that Mr. Jews took an almost bankrupt corporation and built it into the kind of company that would attract WellPoint. WellPoint has a history of snapping up local Blue Cross entities, and Mr. Jews and crew certainly did their best to make CareFirst an attractive purchase.

I do not attempt to diminish Mr. Jews' considerable executive management skills. He did bring CareFirst back from the brink of insolvency. He also focused his management team and the board so intently on making CareFirst an appealing acquisition that he forgot why the corporation was created in the first place.

Insurance Commissioner Larson, in his report on the sale, was particularly critical of two issues. First, he was very concerned over the process used to "auction" CareFirst. The process appears to include some questionable decisions that might have favored WellPoint over other potential bidders. Larson also took serious exception to the bonuses included in the sale provisions, amounting to over $100 million slated for CareFirst executives.

"Mirel, The Stupendously Incompetent," must chalk these facts, clearly spelled out in Commissioner Larson's report, up to the minor oversights that occur in a well-run company. The Maryland General Assembly, the Governor, and Insurance Commissioners appointed by both a Democrat and Republican administration, all agreed that major reform was both necessary and overdue.

My colleague and seatmate Del. Shane Pendergrass (D., Howard), the primary sponsor of the reform bill and a tireless advocate for health consumers, pointed out that the diminished level of trust between CareFirst and the legislature would take a long time to heal. Sen. Thomas "Mac" Middleton (D., Charles), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, defended the need for substantive and meaningful reform as a way of restoring the faith of consumers.

So, to "Mirel, The Universally Misinformed," I offer the preceding as an answer to your question. If you still wonder, "Who the hell are they," I invite you to attend a meeting of the Maryland House of Delegates Health & Government Operations Committee.

The many hours we spent examining the decisions, actions, and results of the CareFirst conversion and sale attempt might benefit you in your service to the citizens and health consumers of the District of Columbia.



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