Blue Cross Official Says IHC Tried to Intimidate Him

Blue Cross Official Says IHC Tried to Intimidate Him

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A Regency Blue Cross Blue Shield executive says an Intermountain Health Care official threatened loss of business if Blue Cross continued to make certain statements to the legislative task force examining Utah's health care system.

The confrontation between William Nelson, IHC chief executive officer, and Kevin Bishoff, vice president for public and corporate affairs for Utah Blue Cross, occurred at a Cedar City social event the day after a July 7 task force meeting.

"In my opinion, it was an attempt to intimidate us into either not testifying before the task force or change what we were saying to the task force," Bishoff said. "It's clearly out of bounds. It certainly implied that this would affect our ability to do business with IHC in the future."

Nelson said he complained to Bishoff about being blindsided by comments at task force meetings, but he denied making threats about IHC's relationship with Blue Cross.

"It would be lunacy for me to make some threat of retaliation. I would never do that," Nelson told The Salt Lake Tribune.

The Privately Owned Health Care Organization Task Force was created by the Legislature to examine IHC's nonprofit status and probe allegations of aggressive collection tactics, bullying of competitors and using its dominance in Utah's health-care market to stifle competition.

The task force has met just four times, and accusations that IHC employees have intimidated people called to speak have been swirling for weeks, said Sen. Mike Waddoups, task force co-chairman.

The accusations pushed Waddoups to speak to Nelson more than a month ago. Waddoups said Nelson assured him that his employees had not intimidated anyone and that he would investigate any accusations of harassment that Waddoups brought to his attention.

At the July 7 meeting, Waddoups reminded the audience that intimidation of witnesses was a felony.

"We've had more than one person say that they didn't want to testify because IHC would retaliate against them," Waddoups said.

The people complaining about IHC have expressed fears they would lose their jobs, IHC would refuse to do business with their companies or it would force financial modifications to existing business contracts, Waddoups said.

"It might be higher than six to 10 (complaints). It's probably closer to eight to 15," Waddoups said.

Doug Hasbrouck, medical director of Blue Cross, said he overheard some of the exchange between Bishoff and Nelson. He said he recalled hearing loud "language to the effect that he was upset with Scott (Ideson, Utah Blue Cross chief executive) to the point that the business relationship would be affected."

Nelson told the Tribune and said in an e-mail to Ideson on Tuesday that he did threaten some sort of retaliation? No."

"That's not the way I operate, and it's not the way I expect IHC to operate. For (Bishoff) to construe my remarks as somehow equating to threatening retaliation ... is a gross misrepresentation of our conversation. There was absolutely no threat, veiled or otherwise," he said in the e-mail.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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