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Firm's Clients Include Halliburton, Exxon, & Tenet
Santa Monica, CA -- As public outrage increases over Blue Cross's practice of illegally dumping policyholders when they get sick, Blue Cross has hired a crisis management PR firm whose client list is heavy with other corporate wrongdoers in need of an image make-over.

According to its website, the PR firm Sitrick and Company specializes in "sensitive situations, such as those involving litigation, criminal or government investigations, environmental disasters, consumer complaints" and "enjoys unsurpassed access to the media." It specializes in the "difficult task of keeping clients out of the press" and "reputation management."

Last week, Blue Cross settled more 70 lawsuits brought by patients who were left with hundreds of thousands dollars in medical bills when the company canceled insurance policies. The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights has condemned "window-dressing" reforms proposed by Blue Cross that do nothing to protect patients.

"Blue Cross is more concerned with improving its public image than honoring its promises to patients," said Jerry Flanagan of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.

Blue Cross is facing widespread complaints that people who bought individual insurance policies and then when fell seriously ill, found their policies illegally cancelled. The complaints show that Blue Cross hid behind bogus claims that patients lied about their health condition on enrollment applications. With no employer to stand behind them, individuals have few avenues of appeal.

News stories have revealed that Blue Cross operates a department dedicated to rescinding the policies of customers who become ill, combing their applications for any excuse to cancel the policies and refuse payment even for treatment already approved. The applications themselves are complicated, technical and vague, and out of compliance with state laws requiring clear, understandable applications.

FTCR has called on state regulators to end the practice and issue fines for each of the illegal cancellations, which could easily number in the thousands.

Sitrick's client list includes:

* Halliburton - Allegations of war profiteering have shadowed Halliburton in recent years.

* Exxon - Exxon is combatting public outrage over its multibillion-dollar record profits while motorists suffered record gasoline pump prices.

* Dynegy, Inc - Along with Enron, Dynegy was accused of illegally driving up the price of electricity during the California energy crisis in 2000 and 2001.

* Tenet Healthcare Corp. - In the largest penalty of its kind, Tenet agreed to pay $725 million and return $175 million in fees in a case alleging that the company had defrauded taxpayers by over-billing Medicare.

* Tosco Corp - Tosco was found guilty of illegal underground discharges of the cancer-causing chemical benzene and toxic toluene (Communities for a Better Environment v. Tosco).  

* WellPoint Health Systems - Blue Cross's corporate parent, WellPoint, is recovering from a public bruising over its recent merger with Anthem in which it awarded executives hundreds of million of dollars in bonuses paid for by raising policyholder premiums.

* Global Crossing - Global Crossing went bankrupt following an FBI and SEC investigation into allegations that the company illegally inflated its profits.

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The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) is California's leading public interest advocacy organization.  Visit us on the web at: http://www.ConsumerWatchdog.org.