Maine's deputy insurance commissioner says she will look into whether the state's largest health insurer acted properly in its board elections.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maine late last month distributed proxy statements for upcoming board elections to its 1,500 employees and asked them to vote-preferably for candidates backed by the company.
A letter from Blues President Andrew "Mickey" Greene accompanied the request.
Consumer groups said they were surprised by the action and characterized it as "ballot stuffing."
Nancy Johnson, the deputy insurance commissioner, said she had never heard of such a procedure in Maine and planned to examine the propriety of what the Blues did.
The insurer said it took the highly unusual action to derail plans by opponents to gain a voice on the board at the company's annual meeting April 9 in South Portland.
"We had heard from various sources that some people wanted to run a write-in candidate," said Carol Morris, a Blues spokeswoman. "We were concerned that such an individual wouldn't have the best interest of Blue Cross at heart."
But the director of a statewide consumer group that opposes many of the Blues' business plans said he was unaware of any such effort, and accused the insurer of ballot stuffing and trying to stifle dissent.
"I think they're a little paranoid," said Joe Ditre of Consumers for Affordable Health Care.
The Blues is a not-for-profit corporation with 480,000 covered lives.
Some of its recent business decisions have angered community groups.
A plan to team up with Maine Medical Center to develop a for-profit HMO called Maine Partners Health Plan was criticized by consumer activists as potentially monopolistic. Maine's insurance superintendent is expected to decide whether to approve the HMO sometime this month.
The company also has floated the idea of converting from a not-for-profit to a stock or mutual company.
Proxy statements allow Blues policyholders to vote for officers without actually attending an annual meeting. The Blues normally mails about 20,000 ballots to randomly selected policyholders, but, in most years, only a few hundred are returned. By opening the vote to its 1,500 employees, the company figured it could overwhelm any write-in effort.
Morris said the results of the board vote won't be announced until the annual meeting. She said employees weren't pressured to vote for any particular nominees, but that most employees did respond and sent in a ballot.
Morris defended the action, noting that employee votes had been solicited at least once before in the company's history. The most recent case took place decades ago, she said, but was unable to say why it was done.