All Is Well Point

May 28, 2002
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Health insurers are beginning to believe “reform” of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan is intended to mean outright plans to replace the health insurer with a for-profit takeover conglomerate doing business as WellPoint. West Michigan health care professionals say the public company, listed on the NYSE, now operates former Blues groups in California and Georgia. “Everyone” in the industry is anticipating market reform and prevention of cherry- picking well patients while leaving the more expensive, older or ill clients to the nonprofit companies like the Blues, which must make insurance available as the insurer of last resort in Michigan. Michigan is one of only three states that have not passed the National Association of Insurance Carriers market reform package. Reform is good; privatizing the Blues is not.

Ah, but all this scuttlebutt also includes one of Gov. John Engler’s new appointments to the BCBS Michigan board: Peter Secchia. Apparently some from east Michigan have passed along the “fact” that Secchia was expressly appointed to do the dirty work of selling off or privatizing the Blues.

West Michigan scuttlebutt is that only through “true” Blues reform, which relates to board composition, will the company be able to operate freely, apart from what some refer to as “union interests,” which has more to do with board and committee meeting payments to certain individuals than an effort to boot the Blues.

Business Journal staff caught up with Secchia by cell phone in a D.C. airport. He said he had never heard of WellPoint, and that the governor, in fact, is opposed to the Blues becoming a public company or a takeover. “I’ve only been to one meeting; I have an enormous amount of paperwork to go through, but I can say one thing: the governor appointed me but I do not represent the governor. I represent retirees, and I’m one of 35 votes on the board.”

The Blues happen to have scheduled the next board meeting for June 5, in Grand Rapids.

  • Pet peeves: A recently discovered mystery in health care involves those gotta-have PET scanners, of which Michigan has three in service — all in eastern Michigan. East-west disparity already has been the subject of a fast push on legislation to authorize PETs in the west. The urgency was underscored as a life-and-death issue by those who authored the legislative push. New rules have been in effect since February.

How now, brown cow? The number of requests for the latest technology has dwindled from more than a half dozen to two, and the two may now reapply as partners for one.

Near as anyone can figure it’s the money, not life and death. One year ago Medicare authorized payment for PET scans, but recently had a change of heart. Medicare bureaucrats now indicate they will “downscale” reimbursement for the procedure. Oops, the gold rush is off. In the chicken/egg arguments of health care, one again asks: What came first? Providers who charge as much as they dared, forcing the government to issue a set price list (and thus, reimbursements considered — in some places — to be well below market), or low reimbursements that caused health care providers to charge an arm and a leg.

  • More fun, less stressing: Fred Meijer told crowds of people May 16 how important it is to have fun in their work. The occasion was the dedication of the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, which also gave him opportunity to stress the importance of the finer things in life, like the arts and humanities, and the joy of such eye candy.

Even as the sculpture park, the sculptors and the gardens were featured in the national media (including the international CNN.com travel page lead), Meijer was again too busy having fun at work to take any more calls on the candy. Purple Cow coupons ever at the ready, he and son Hank Meijer opened “a few” new stores late last week.

  • Use ’em or lose ’em: The downtown entertainment district is faint for fewer patrons compared to previous year levels, and is especially attentive to weather forecasts that might fill the new decks and outdoor seating areas.

Old Town talk hints of the big breakup between the Christines and the sale of the former Opus/Club 1894. Christine Gill is now sole owner of the Sierra Room, while Christie Jackson took sole ownership of the Club. Club members were sent e-mails this spring indicating the establishment would be closed for a short while for renovations, though it has not reopened. Ionia Street rumors indicate a New York investment group recently bought the Club property.

  • Today’s front-page stories regarding the controversial mortgage lending discrimination study in Grand Rapids authored by MSU professor JosephDarden also were the subject of last week’s grbj.com survey question. And the results were not necessarily kind.

Nearly 82 percent of those responding to the online poll said the author “employed selected statistics to buttress academic preconceptions about lenders.”

That’s basically the same thing Fifth Third Bank West Michigan President KevinKabat said in a letter to the City Commission. With commissioners calling for more responses from banks, expect more of the same from other area lending institutions.

To be silent on the subject, intoned GR Commissioner RobertDean, is to imply guilt by association.

So cast your vote now.           

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