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Put care first

ASLEEP AT THE switch while the company was nearly spirited out from under them, members of CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield's discredited board of directors suddenly woke up angry at everybody but themselves.

They vowed recently in interviews with The Sun's Dan Thanh Dang to vigorously fight civil charges that they allowed CareFirst executives to run roughshod over state insurance laws. They claimed they were collateral damage in a vindictive campaign by the General Assembly against CareFirst CEO William L. Jews.

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In short, the nearly two dozen prominent citizens who have remained largely silent throughout the controversy surrounding Mr. Jews' efforts to convert Maryland's nonprofit health insurer into a money-maker, then sell it, demonstrated why they weren't up to their job of directing him.

They don't even seem to have understood what their job was.

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Wisely, the Assembly has voted unanimously to replace, in two stages over the next year, the 12 board members representing Maryland. If the lame-duck members feel any trace of responsibility to the company's 3.2 million subscribers, they will use the time they have remaining to ease the transition.

Negotiations are now under way with Maryland Insurance Commissioner Alfred W. Redmer Jr., that could result in fines for the company and top executives along with a statement acknowledging missteps, at least, in the attempted sale of CareFirst to a California-based company that had agreed to pay fat bonuses to Mr. Jews and other executives.

Officials involved are entitled to rebut the charges in open hearings before Mr. Redmer, if they choose. But it would be far more productive for the company if they moved swiftly to assure subscribers and employees that CareFirst is financially sound and positioned to remain so.

Some directors, at least, are still contending the insurer cannot be successfully run as a nonprofit, as it has for decades. They lack either commitment to the cause or motivation to make it work.

In either case, that ship has sailed. Maryland lawmakers, appalled by the terms of the sale, voted unanimously to block it and require CareFirst to retain its nonprofit status for at least five years.

Now the task at hand is to rededicate the company to its mission as insurer of last resort, and repair the damage caused by months of controversy.

Mr. Redmer is working to soothe concerns raised by insurance commissioners in Washington, D.C., and Delaware, where many of CareFirst's subscribers reside. Some adjustment in the legislation may be necessary, but Mr. Redmer says he is willing to help with that, too.

If lame-duck board members can't be part of this solution, they should just get out of the way - and take Mr. Jews with them.


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