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Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania officials support President Obama's goal to provide affordable health insurance to all Americans, but they say a government-run health insurance plan is not the way to accomplish that goal.

During a meeting with The Citizens' Voice editorial board Wednesday, Blue Cross spokespersons Michelle Davidson and Anthony Matrisciano said a government-run plan would not contain rising health care costs, but would reduce quality and eliminate choices for consumers. They support a government mandate that everyone must have health insurance coverage, including those with pre-existing conditions.

"If we were to have a mandate that everyone had to be covered, that would change things and would impact the cost of health care," Davidson said. "That would make a level playing field for everybody. We would have a much different system than it is today."

Matrisciano cited Medicare and Medicaid as examples of how government-run health care has not contained costs. In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson's administration projected Medicare would cost $12 billion by 1990. By 1990, the program's cost grew to $110 billion, and two years ago, benefits payments for Medicare's four parts totaled $426 billion.

Matrisciano and Davidson denied health care costs are rising due to excess insurer profits. They said the key drivers of health insurance premiums are advances in medical technology, increased usage, excess price inflation for medical services, cost-shifting and patient lifestyles.

To help reduce health care costs, Blue Cross has been working with doctors and has programs to help people manage their health, Davidson said. Blue Cross also tries to provide affordable coverage for both the healthy and those with pre-existing conditions, she said.

Among the options, Blue Cross offers BlueCare Essentials and BlueCare Select for early retirees, the self-employed, part-time employees and workers whose employers do not offer health benefits. Coverage ranges from less than $90 to under $200, depending on age and gender, the level of coverage and the deductible selected.

"We're the insurer of last resort so we have to be able to offer insurance for anyone who comes knocking," Davidson said. "We work hard to really make sure we're providing options for people so they can afford it."

Yet, statistics show many people can't afford insurance. According to the Pennsylvania Insurance Department, 1,021,790 Pennsylvania residents, roughly 8.2 percent of the population, had no health insurance the last time a survey was conducted in 2008. That marks an increase from about 900,000 residents in 2004.

Blue Cross helps enroll uninsured people in the state-funded health insurance program Adult Basic, Davidson said, but the waiting list continues to grow. From May to July this year, the waiting list grew from 7,739 to 8,998 in Luzerne County, from 3,828 to 4,519 in Lackawanna County and from 235,574 to 272,242 statewide, according to the Pennsylvania Insurance Department.

Davidson said Blue Cross has had success in providing affordable coverage. She "welcomes" the state Insurance Department's examination into whether or not the four Blue Cross insurers across Pennsylvania are engaging in anti-competitive or unfair trade practices, although she said the process will require "substantial resources and time."

Saying there is competition among profit and nonprofit health insurers in Pennsylvania and Blue Cross succeeds in providing affordable coverage, Davidson said, "We're aren't going to apologize for our success in that area."

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