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Protesters take reform message to insurers

Health Care for America Now targets Blue Cross of NEPA as part of its nationwide effort.

Health Care for America Now members protest in front of Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania on North Main Street, Wilkes-Barre, Tuesday. While some people stayed on the street, Rosanne Kolberg of Old Forge took her message to a higher level.

CLARK VAN ORDEN/THE TIMES LEADER

WILKES-BARRE – Supporters of health care reform staged a protest Tuesday in front of the Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania building as part of a nationwide effort focusing on some of the largest insurance companies in the country.

Approximately a dozen people affiliated with the advocacy group Health Care for America Now stood and held printed and handmade signs at the entrance and across the street from the company’s offices as workers entered the building and traffic passed by on North Main Street.

It was their first stop before traveling to Williamsport, and then to Philadelphia, for what was expected to be a large rally at the Cigna, said local organizer Roxanne Pauline of Taylor.

The group made up of MoveOn.org, labor, religious and community groups demanded that Blue Cross and other companies sign a pledge to end what it described as “bad health insurance industry practices” such as denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions. The protesters also demanded the companies end arbitrary caps on medical care payments and eliminate the use of employees, funds and facilities to oppose the proposals supported by President Barack Obama and members of Congress.

“We have to target the insurance companies. We have to,” said Pauline.

“We need to get them to change their rates,” she said and referred to the company’s recent filing for rate hikes with the Pennsylvania Insurance Department.

Pauline said she does not have health insurance and has a pre-existing condition of Fabry disease. The disease, which occurs because of a buildup of fat in cells, can be life threatening. She said her brother died as a result of the effects of the disease on his kidneys.

The protest was orderly and lasted for approximately an hour. The event was held to get people’s attention, Pauline said.

Blue Cross spokesman Anthony Matrisciano watched Pauline and the others holding signs that read “Health Care Can’t Wait,” “Insurance Profits Bad For My Health,” and “Jesus Healed Without Charge.” The company and the protesters had something in common, he acknowledged.

“We do agree that reform is necessary,” Matrisciano said. But the two differed on the means of achieving that end.

If the government mandates coverage for everyone, it should also “create a level playing field where all insurers compete,” Matrisciano said. As a nonprofit insurer of last resort, Blue Cross has to provide coverage to people who are denied coverage by other providers, he pointed out.

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