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The final approval today of the merger of HMO giants WellPoint Health Networks and Anthem Inc. by the Georgia insurance commissioner is "a 9-figure Christmas gift for company executives at a time when patients have to fight for basic health care coverage," according to Jerry Flanagan of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR).

FTCR was first to raise objections over the merger's $600 million in payouts to top executives and $4 billion in financing charges. The merger agreement fails to protect patients, business owners and other premium payers against future premium increases to cover the cost of the merger, according to FTCR.

"When HMO executives are allowed to raid the health care system for their own enrichment, patients and small business owners lose. The last decade of HMO mergers has taught us that when fewer HMOs dominate the health care market, quality goes down, premiums go up, and patients get short changed. This merger finances up to $600 million in executive payouts on the backs of those least able to pay," said Jerry Flanagan of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. "Patients need new protections to ensure that premiums reflect the cost of medical care, not the greed of health care profiteers and Wall Street financers."

The company is still liable for hundreds of millions of dollars in unpaid taxes according to a taxpayer lawsuit filed by FTCR on behalf of all California taxpayers calling upon California Controller Steve Westly and the Board of Equalization to collect hundreds of millions of dollars in gross premium taxes unpaid by WellPoint subsidiary Blue Cross of California during the last eight years. Read more about the lawsuit at: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/healthcare/pr/pr004736.php3

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The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights is a non-partisan and non-profit consumer advocacy organization. For more information, visit us on the web at http://www.ConsumerWatchdog.org