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LETTERS

For-Profit Health Care Shrinks Availability

November 30, 2003

Re: "WellPoint CEO Envisions Custom Health Coverage" (Oct. 29):

In reflecting on the accomplishments of Leonard Schaeffer, the chairman and chief executive of WellPoint Health Networks Inc., which is being acquired by Anthem Inc., columnist James Flanigan failed to emphasize the tragic demise of health care as we know it today.

Before WellPoint and Anthem came onto the scene, the Blue Cross/Blue Shield world was nonprofit and more affordable by both individuals and groups. With the for-profit schema ruling the health world now, affordable health care is rapidly disappearing.

The future is here with the major strikes over health-benefits coverage in the retail food industry and mass transit.

With a payout to Leonard Schaeffer of "$350 million or more as a result of the acquisition," another nail is driven into the coffin that is our health-care industry. Indeed, Schaeffer figured out the formula for success at the beginning of his reign with Blue Cross of California, later becoming WellPoint and for-profit. He turned a company near bankruptcy into the most successful managed-care entity in the U.S.

By squeezing each component in the equation to its limit, he was able to extract maximal profits. Along the way, the consumer has ended up with premiums rising up to 30% yearly, while the physician and the hospital have seen major cutbacks in reimbursements.

I am a physician and gastroenterologist, and Blue Cross/WellPoint pays me below Medicare and almost equivalent to Medi-Cal rates. Gastroscopy and colonoscopy reimbursable fees are back to what they were 25 years ago. Many physicians, and some hospitals, are opting out of the "Blues."

Where do we go from here? Can we fight this menace to our health-care coverage? As what happened a century ago, the federal government will have to intervene in an attempt to control profits and reestablish the concept of public utility but now in the health-care arena.

Jerome P. Helman

Santa Monica

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The column quotes a health-care economist as predicting that 65 million Americans will be without health insurance, and Schaeffer will earn $350 million or more when Anthem acquires WellPoint.

What has he really done to merit such an obscene amount of money? He has no vision on how to get health-care insurance to every citizen in our country. When he talks about tailored policies for individual wants and needs, it's simply a smoke screen to mask the higher premiums he wants the policyholders to pay.

I believe that health insurance companies should not be allowed to be for-profit because companies should not make money off of something as important as the health and medical care of the people.

Stanley Horwitz

Stevenson Ranch

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