Rival Says Blue Cross|Bullies Brokers


     (CN) – Anthem Blue Cross bars insurance brokers from selling more affordable group medical plans to employers, a competitor says in a state antitrust complaint.
     Ben-E-Lect claims Blue Cross refuses to do business with insurance brokers who offer lower-priced group medical plans, and conspires to make “similar threats to insurance brokers throughout California.”
     In its April 13 lawsuit in Sonoma County Court, Visalia-based Ben-E-Lect claims that Anthem “coerced the Blue Cross authorized agents into joining this conspiracy against, in part, plaintiff’s programs by threatening them with loss of commissions and loss of their appointment if they sell a plan with an associated HRA [health reimbursement arrangement].”
     Ben-E-Lect describes a health reimbursement arrangement as an “employer-funded, tax-advantaged” health plan, approved by the IRS and the Affordable Care Act, by which employers reimburse employees for out-of-pocket medical expenses.
     It claims that Anthem’s conspiracy makes it impossible for insurance brokers to market anything other than “very few, highly priced policies” that compete with Blue Cross.
     Blue Cross has an “anti-competitive, anti-‘wrapping policy'” that stops insurance brokers from offering Ben-E-Lect’s products to small- and mid-sized employers, the complaint states.
     It claims that Anthem prohibits “the use of any type of employer self-funded arrangement” by insurance brokers who also sell Blue Cross policies.
     Ben-E-Lect offers high-deductible medical, dental and vision benefits plans and administers them for employers, according to the company website.
     It seeks an injunction, restitution, damages and punitive damages for violating California’s Cartwright Act, unfair competition, and interference with business relations.
     Ben-E-Lect is represented by Michael Brook, who could not be reached before press time.
     An Anthem spokesman was not available for comment Wednesday.

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