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Media Discovers WellPoint "Right To Profit" Case

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News outlets are starting to report on Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, a subsidiary of WellPoint, suing the state of Maine to guarantee a 3% profit for themselves. Here's a report from the Maine Public Broadcasting Network:

The state and Maine's largest private insurer Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield are locked in a legal battle over how much profit Anthem should be able to make. Earlier this year, Maine's insurance superintendent Mila Kofman denied Anthem's request to raise rates for its individual insurance products, calling it "excessive," and instead approved an increase that leaves Anthem without a profit margin for providing those 12,000 policies. Now Anthem has filed suit to get the decision overturned.

Superintendent has noted that Anthem's done pretty well." Janet Mills is the Maine Attorney General who is representing the superintendent of insurance. Mills' office counters that Anthem averaged a 3.2 percent profit margin in its individual line of products for the nine years that the company has been in Maine. And that going a year without a profit from those products will not drain the company.

She found that in fact that had contributed to $17.5 million and that its executives were pocketing rather large salaries and bonuses." Anthem spokesman Chris Dugan did not comment on the lawsuit beyond acknowledging that it had been filed. In a brief filed with the Maine Superior Court, however, Anthem calls a 0 percent profit margin unfair and unprecedented; it says it wants to have a profit margin of at least 3 percent.

Remember, the new rates offered by the Maine Superintendent do not prevent Anthem from making a profit; they can do that the same way other companies might do so in a recession, by cutting overhead costs and lowering executive salaries and taking up more efficient management of their business. But as I've reported and as Igor Volsky confirms, Anthem wants the state of Maine to guarantee a 3% profit as a Constitutional right:

A 0% risk and profit charge, by definition, builds in no cushion for any of the risk that Anthem BCBS takes on by selling Individual Insurance Products in Maine. In addition, with a 0% risk and profit charge under the Superintendent's approved rates, Anthem BCBS will not be able to provide any contribution to the surplus of the Company...Anthem BCBS -- a for-profit Company -- cannot be required to operate its highly risky Individual Insurance Products essentially as a non-profit company that must offset losses generated by the Individual Insurance Products through its group insurance business in Maine.

This is a fantasy argument from a legal perspective. The Superintendent works for the people, not Anthem BCBS, and she is not required to provide a profit margin for it or any company as an inalienable right. Anthem is a very profitable company already, and the individual market they want to jack up 18.5% represents a small portion of their business (about 6%) which has brought in $17 million dollars over the last decade. The Superintendent can say no, under the law, to allowing Anthem to charge an "additional $12 million in annual premiums for the same level of benefits." She does not have to guarantee Anthem a profit. WellPoint may be able to cut their own employee health care, but under the regulations of Maine, they cannot squeeze their customers without the Superintendent stepping in to protect them.

The Wonk Room has provided copies of the briefs in the case here and here.

Econo-blogger Robert Waldmann has more. In addition, Ed Schultz ran a segment on the case on his show:

It goes without saying that Maine is a linchpin of health care reform, given the position of their moderate Republican Senators. Maybe they should look into what's happening in their own state.