Blue Cross tobacco plan ready for review
Minnesotans will have an opportunity to publicly comment on Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota's latest plan on how it wants to spend the $412 million it will receive from its 1998 lawsuit settlement with the tobacco companies.
Commerce Department Commissioner James Bernstein will take oral comments from 6 to 11 p.m. on Jan. 8 in Meeting Room, Deluxe 1, Minnesota History Center, 345 Kellogg Blvd. W., which is on the western edge of downtown St. Paul near the intersections of interstates 35E and 94.
Bernstein said comments should be limited to the issue of whether, and why, he should approve or disapprove Blue Cross' plan. Scheduling will be conducted on a first-come, first-served basis and comments will be restricted to 15 minutes each.
If time does not permit everyone a chance to speak, the meeting will be continued to another day.
Under the new plan, which was announced in November, the Blues would:
-- Invest $252 million during the next decade on health improvements and preventive-medicine programs for all Minnesotans.
-- Provide $30 million over a five-year period toward the support of community clinics around the state.
-- Give $70 million to the Minnesota Comprehensive Health Association, a nonprofit organization that provides health insurance to state residents who cannot obtain individual coverage because of pre-existing medical conditions.
-- Distribute $60 million to qualified Blue Cross members who had policies or plans on June 15, 2001.
The Blues' first plan was rejected in 1999 by former Commissioner David Jennings. Jennings supports the latest proposal. "This time, I think they got it right,'' he wrote in a letter to Bernstein.
George Halvorson, president and CEO of HealthPartners, also opposed the first plan but now supports this version. "It's a good plan for Minnesotans and for Blue Cross members,'' Halvorson wrote.
But 30 of the 100 Minnesotans who sent letters to the commissioner during the public comment period opposed the new plan because it does not return all -- or at least most -- of the settlement funds to Blue Cross and Blue Shield members.
"(The plan) does nothing to compensate the fully insured groups who paid the bill for smoking-related injuries and illnesses,'' wrote Karl Cambronne and Samuel Heins, two lawyers who filed a class action suit challenging the Blues' first plan.