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Time for him to go

WILLIAM L. JEWS, the embattled chief executive of CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, is by all accounts a talented man. Associates describe him as an extremely bright, sometimes charming businessman who can be credited with rescuing Maryland's premier health insurer from the shambles left behind by its last embattled chief executive 10 years ago.

Mr. Jews may even be able to successfully defend himself against the civil charges leveled by Maryland Insurance Commissioner Alfred W. Redmer Jr. that he deliberately misrepresented to the General Assembly facts about his efforts to sell CareFirst to a California-based company offering to pay him a fat bonus.

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But this messy end to Mr. Jews' misguided four-year effort to convert the nonprofit CareFirst into a money-maker has so destroyed confidence in his leadership and his credibility that he cannot continue in his present post without harming the company further.

CareFirst's board of directors, a distinguished group of community leaders that up to now has been little more than a rubber stamp for Mr. Jews, should finally summon the gumption - if not the sense of responsibility to subscribers - to send him packing.

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A permanent replacement would have to wait until next year, after the board is reconstituted under recently enacted reform legislation. But the current board could name an interim chief executive and begin the search process for Mr. Jews' successor.

Such a dismissal need not be read as a concurrence with Mr. Redmer's charges, which were based on a lengthy investigation by his predecessor, former Commissioner Steven B. Larsen. Instead, it would be a recognition that Mr. Jews is ill-suited to run a nonprofit insurance company.

He has proved repeatedly that he is not sympathetic with the mission of insuring as many people as possible at the lowest reasonable price - most recently by trying to cut elderly but costly farmers from his rolls. And Mr. Jews' attitude has so soured CareFirst's relations in Annapolis that he seems politically tone deaf.

According to Mr. Redmer, there's lots more blame at CareFirst to go around. Executive Vice President David D. Wolf as well as board Chairman Daniel J. Altobello are also facing charges.

A housecleaning is desperately overdue, but it must begin at the top.


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