Pa. Court Approves Public Release of Information on Nonprofit Insurers’ Cash Reserves

July 28, 2004

A state judge has ruled that state regulators can make public much of the materials that Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania was ordered to submit to justify its large cash reserves.

The ruling also lifts a temporary order keeping confidential all documents filed with the Pennsylvania Insurance Department by the state’s four Blue Cross and Blue Shield organizations. The ruling by Commonwealth Court Judge Dan Pellegrini did not include an opinion.

In January, the four nonprofit insurers were ordered by the department to apply “for approval of the reserves and surpluses they maintain.”

Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania originally had sought to keep much of its submitted information shielded from the public.

“We’re going to abide by the order and we’re ready to move forward,” spokesman Gerry Snyder of Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania said.

Insurance department officials say the law requires the documents to be made available for public view and comment, although some portions will be redacted to protect trade secrets.

“We are very pleased with this ruling, as we have always believed the public’s input in this process is not only legally appropriate, but a valuable and necessary part of the department’s analysis,” Insurance Commissioner M. Diane Koken said in a statement.

The other three Blues agreed separately with department officials on which sensitive information will be redacted.

The department hopes to post the primary insurer applications on its Web site in the next two weeks, said spokeswoman Rosanne Placey. Other supporting documents will be on file at the department and a public comment period is to begin in August, she said.

If the department deems the surpluses to be excessive, then the Blues could be required to use the excess cash to hold down rate increases or help Pennsylvania’s uninsured, state officials say.

The level of the Blues’ surpluses is open to department scrutiny because the nonprofit plans were originally created by state law in the Depression era to serve anyone who needed health insurance.

The Blues reported $2.4 billion in cash reserves earmarked to pay liabilities in addition to a cash surplus of $3.5 billion as of December 2002.

The Blues need to maintain a surplus that rises proportionately with risk and subscribers if the insurers are to guarantee coverage in the face of a catastrophe and pass muster with rating agencies, company officials have said.

Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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