Anthem May Be Sole Biddder on Maine’s Dirigo

Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maine has emerged as a possible sole bidder to provide coverage under Maine’s Dirigo Health Program.

But Anthem, the only one of five insurance companies that expressed an interest in bidding for the business, said it has yet to decide if it will follow through with a bid.

If no bid is received by June 11, or if an agreement cannot be reached, the state is authorized to move forward by creating its own nonprofit state agency to provide the Dirigo product.

Monday was the deadline for private insurers to file an “intent to bid” notice for the state-sponsored insurance plan to be called Dirigo Health CareWorks.

Gov. John Baldacci’s office of health policy and finance would not reveal how many bids were received by the deadline. But of the five insurance companies that attended a bidders conference last week, four — Cigna, Aetna, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and United Health Care — have dropped out.

Other insurers may have filed by the deadline, but without the state’s confirmation, Anthem remains the only known potential bidder.

Anthem officials are still analyzing the state’s request for proposals, company spokesman William Cohen said, and its filing was the only way to keep options open while the company examines the 400-page document.

Cohen said Anthem will have no further comment on its interest in the Dirigo plan until bids are opened.

Joe Ditre, executive director of Consumers for Affordable Health Care, said Anthem’s expertise and deep corporate pockets would give it an important edge in starting up and administering the DHCareWorks plan.

Ditre, whose group lobbied against the sale of Blue Cross to Anthem and has been critical of Anthem’s rate hikes, said the Anthem name might prove reassuring to consumers and small-business owners who have doubts about the program.

Christopher St. John, executive director of the Maine Center for Economic Policy, said having more bidders vying for the Dirigo contract might bring lower bids and inspire creativity in meeting the specifications of the proposal.

But, he said, “Anthem may be the only company with the guts to take on the job.”

Anthem has a vested interest in remaining the dominant private insurer in Maine, St. John said, and there’s nothing to prevent the state’s DHCareWorks from expanding into Anthem territory in the future.

At the conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center, Director of Health Reform Initiatives Tarren Bragdon said the apparent lack of bidding enthusiasm on the part of insurers shows “there are big questions about the viability and marketability” of the DHCareWorks product.

“Insurers recognize it’s going to be a tough sell to the business owner,” Bragdon said.

Also weighing in was Professor Andy Coburn, director of the Institute for Health Policy at the Muskie School of Public Policy in Portland. “Anthem has a lot at stake here,” Coburn said. “It doesn’t want to say no. But can it afford to say yes?”

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