CareFirst's sale is bad deal for state consumers

Contrary to Jay Hancock's assertions in "CareFirst sale to WellPoint seems a deal worth doing" (Jan. 26), the proposed deal would offer Marylanders less, not more.

The insurance commissioner's consultants substantiate that CareFirst, as a local nonprofit insurer, is financially healthy and viable as is. And CareFirst already has the lion's share of Maryland's health insurance market. A merger with a profit-driven company could give it an even more dominant position, which could mean less competition and higher premiums.

Another one of the commissioner's consultants notes that the for-profit WellPoint spends 5 percent less for medical services than nonprofit CareFirst spends. That's because WellPoint's focus is on delivering more to the bottom line for its stockholders.

Mr. Hancock failed to note that these consultants found WellPoint behind CareFirst in quality, customer service and provider relations. Also missing from his column was any sense of how consumers would fare in a price comparison of WellPoint and CareFirst.

And as for WellPoint's "lite" policies that Mr. Hancock applauds, WellPoint couldn't sell them here because they fail to offer the level of coverage required under Maryland law.

Insurance Commissioner Steven B. Larsen and the state legislature should reject this merger and redirect Blue Cross to become a true partner in offering more affordable health insurance.

Calvin M. Pierson


The writer is the president of the Maryland Hospital Association.

CareFirst can't make the case for merger

I couldn't agree more with The Sun's conclusion that the proposed sale of CareFirst is "a patient that's past reviving" ("A terminal case," editorial, Jan. 23). But I hope The Sun is dead wrong in thinking the state's insurance commissioner and the Assembly might yet approve this sale.

CareFirst and WellPoint haven't made their case. Not by a mile. They have failed to demonstrate how the sale of a not-for-profit local charity to a for-profit California insurer would improve health care for citizens of Maryland.

It wouldn't give customers better care because WellPoint's policies in other states impose high deductibles, limitations on physician visits and caps on other coverage. WellPoint also tends to restrict access to doctors and hospitals.

And it's interesting that WellPoint refused to provide comparative data to consultants working for the Maryland insurance commissioner on its insurance plans. How is the commissioner supposed to come to a decision without the relevant information?

Clearly, the public's interest would be best served by keeping Maryland's Blue Cross affiliate as a local, nonprofit charity with a new mandate: providing more affordable, accessible health insurance to many more Marylanders.

Robert R. Neall


The writer is a former state senator who is now director of finance for Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Marketers don't pay for our phone service

Contrary to what Bruce C. Bereano suggests, all calls are not equal ("Panel hears testimony on bills to limit telemarketing," Jan. 31).

And like most phone users, I do not believe that the telephone that I paid for, the telephone line I paid to install and the telephone service I pay for each month are extensions of any business' marketing apparatus.

Telemarketers do not subsidize my telephone service, so I have no obligation to receive their calls.

The telephone is for communicating with loved ones, near and far, and for contacting same and authorities in times of emergency. Period.

When the day finally comes when the law enables me to be on a "do not market" list, I will be first to add my name.

Thomas S. Jones Jr.


Outraged by plan to boost transit fares

I am outraged by the Maryland Transit Administration's (MTA) plan to increase fares on buses, light rail, Metro and MARC while also cutting services ("Plan would increase MTA fares," Feb. 5). MTA's goal and Maryland's goal should be to improve mass transportation, not weaken it.

The Sun notes that MTA officials compare other transit agencies' fare hikes to this one, but this is not a good comparison. Even after the fare hikes, the Washington Metro would still cost less to ride than our grossly inadequate system. And unlike our terribly designed web of bus routes, light rail and Metro, Washington has an organized transit system that makes it convenient and desirable to use mass transportation.

The MTA's focus should be on the Baltimore regional rail plan, which would improve transit options.

Aimee Darrow


Sept. 11 attacks also deserve a full review

After the tragic crash of space shuttle Columbia, it is fitting that the government mount an investigation to determine the causes ("Congress' probe to go beyond catastrophe," Feb. 4). Only after a serious investigation, such as the one undertaken after the Challenger explosion, will we truly understand what happened, and learn how best to reduce the danger.

The clear need for such an investigation makes it very curious that the Bush administration resisted an investigation into the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Nearly 3,000 people lost their lives that day, and this nation deserves to know more specifically what actually happened that day, why it happened and whether any of it could have been prevented.

As in the case of the space shuttle, we need to learn to reduce our future danger.

David Schwartz


Invest in exploration, not war with Iraq

Whenever one of the space shuttles and their crew is lost, there is a sinking feeling in many hearts throughout the world. Our only hope is to recover, fix what is wrong and keep searching our universe for answers to questions we haven't even asked.

The shuttle crash has made talk of war with Iraq seem so trivial compared with the potential of space exploration.

Instead of spending an estimated $100 billion on fighting such a war, President Bush could spend less than half this money developing new space shuttles, and the long-term rewards would be much greater.

Steve Devon


Reunion brought joyful memories

The Sun sure blasted our memories of a great reunion at the Jewish Museum of Maryland on Jan. 26 by focusing on the shameful days of segregation throughout the editorial ("Memories on layaway," editorial, Feb. 1).

No one doubts the editorial's observation that the department stores practiced the same evil as the rest of the nation. However, segregation ended, opportunities opened for all and a grateful and happy crowd of ex-employees of all stripes gathered in great joy to share memories of a valuable work experience in a more civilized era.

A great time was had by all.

Sandy Murphy Schmidt

Middle River

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