Public health advocates in Wisconsin want to make sure they don't get short shrift in the proposed for-profit conversion by Blue Cross and Blue Shield United of Wisconsin.
The Blues' proposed conversion includes turning over the proceeds of a stock sale, estimated to be as much as $250 million, to a new not-for-profit foundation being created by the 700,000-enrollee insurer.
The proposal then calls for that money to be split between the Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and the University of Wisconsin, which plan to use it, in part, to fund medical research, education and other programs to improve health and wellness throughout the state (June 21, p. 49).
But public health advocates want to ensure conversion funds are used to support Wisconsin's public health system. They also want public health officials to have a greater say in how the money is spent.
"The medical schools are centers of excellence, and deserve our respect and ongoing support. They are not, however, expert in the field and practice of public health," said Frank Matteo, director of the Kenosha County division of health, in written testimony to the Wisconsin insurance commissioner. "Placing the conversion funds in the medical schools will practically guarantee that those funds will not be used to enhance Wisconsin's public health system."
Matteo was among almost 100 people who attended a Nov. 29 public hearing in Milwaukee on the proposed conversion before Connie O'Connell, the state insurance commissioner.
A second hearing was held Nov. 30 in Stevens Point, Wis.
Matteo said he would like the conversion proceeds to go toward long-term funding for local health departments across the state and other initiatives, such as dental care for the uninsured and mental health programs.
The proposed conversion, already approved by the national Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association in Chicago, still needs approval from O'Connell.
She has pledged a "complete and public review." No deadline is set for her to issue a decision.
The Blues says it needs to convert to gain greater access to capital so that it can continue to grow.
Since 1994 when the national Blues association voted to allow conversionsfour plans have converted to for-profit companies, according to the association.