Blue Cross Threatens To End Coverage For Patients At Christian Hospital Group Over Blue Cross Logo

from the crossed-purposes dept

The last time we checked in with insurance giant Blue Cross / Blue Shield, the company was arguing that trademark law meant that researchers couldn’t publish a study finding that BCBS doctors weren’t always the best at handling patients in need of psychiatric care. As far as giant insurance companies go, it’s a disappointing level of evil for the company to embrace. If you want to be the biggest name in insurance, you have to really get into some dastardly stuff. So come on, Blue Cross, what else have you got?

A giant insurance company is taking on a group of nuns and the nuns are fighting back. The Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System (SCL), which runs hospitals and clinics in Kansas, Colorado and Montana, has used a logo including a cross since 1976. It tweaked its logo to add a bit of blue to it. Insurance behemoth Blue Cross then warned the Sisters of Charity to stop using the logo, threatening litigation and to stop its agreements with the nuns’ facilities, causing SCL patients to pay out of pocket or go elsewhere for healthcare.

Aaaahhh, much better! Yes, Blue Cross has decided to dictate to a group of Christian nuns just exactly how to depict a freaking cross. Apparently someone with a background in religious studies needs to head over to BCBS HQ and teach a quick lesson on where the nuns might have gotten their cross logo from (hint: it was a torture device from biblical times). And, just to make sure you understand exactly how dumb this is, here are both logos in question. Let me know if seeing these side by side confuses any of you.

Yeah, they’re just not similar at all, never mind confusingly similar. So, after the threats from BCBS, the sisters from SCL Health decided to file suit, because this is America, damn it, and God will have his day in court.

Those threats caused the nuns to file suit against Blue Cross, stating that Blue Cross has been aware of the logo for almost 40 years and that the updated version has been acknowledged by Blue Cross to be “virtually identical” to its original logo, according to Emma Gannon of Courthouse News Service.

“Like thousands of other Christian-founded health and medical service providers, SCL Health has used the symbol of the cross to denote its Christian heritage and holistic approach to health care and spiritual well-being,” according to the suit. The Sisters of Charity are seeking declaratory judgment of non-infringement and non-dilution, and cancellation of Blue Cross trademark No. 554,817, which the Sisters say Blue Cross already has abandoned. They also seek the costs of the suit.

I suppose BCBS could continue fighting these nuns over the non-similar logo of a cross they’ve been using for several decades if it wants to, but I’d be afraid of taking a ruler to the back of the head if I were them. Probably best to just let these Christian nuns use a cross as a logo to provide healthcare to people, yes?

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Companies: blue cross, blue shield, leavenworth health system, sisters of charity

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Comments on “Blue Cross Threatens To End Coverage For Patients At Christian Hospital Group Over Blue Cross Logo”

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That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Lawyers are wonderful things.
Threatening to not do what you are paid to do over a trademark dispute sounds like something that should get them a stern talking to from those things that are supposed to oversee them.
I hope the Nuns win, and I hope that whoever decided that these looked similar be given vision coverage so they can get glasses.

DannyB (profile) says:

Remedy for trademark infringement -- withhold coverage

Setting aside whether or not this is actually trademark infringement (and I think it is not) . . .

The remedy for trademark infringement is a legal process. Not withholding coverage. You can even sue over the trademark issue and still be obligated to provide coverage.

I think Blue Cross should be sued over that particular issue. In addition sue Blue Cross to get a declaration of non infringement. And for costs. And maybe punitive damages for threatening to withdraw coverage.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: reply to Anonymous Coward, Sep 15th, 2015 @ 6:52am

If you’re searching on the USPTO TSDR page, make sure you change the drop down from serial number to reg number, and if the reg number is six digits you have to add a zero to the beginning (0554817, no commas). Or you can search for the serial number 71531753.

The record shows a cross, like the one above but without any icons or other dsign in the middle, lined to indicate the design in the color blue, registered since 1952.

jsf (profile) says:

There is more than one BCBS Company

While this is a dumb lawsuit there is something that a lot of people don’t seem to understand about BCBS. They are not a single company and the original article gets this all wrong.

There are actually 60+ BCBS companies. One or more for each state. Although they are mostly owned by less than a dozen parent organizations these days.

Each individual company has a license to use the BCBS name and trademarks from the BCBS Association. They also have a bunch of other cross company agreements through the BCBS Association to honor each others pricing when covering things that occur outside each companies territory.

In this particular case it is the BCBS Association that is the trouble maker. Yeah a small technical detail, but a significant difference when you realize that the BCBS Association’s main product is the trademarks they hold and license. They don’t sell insurance themselves.

Some of the BCBS companies are nasty profit mongers, some are not. It all depends on how they were created and in what state. One very big thing that most people don’t understand about insurance is that it was and still is regulated at the state level. So every state has different rules. Which is why there are so many BCBS companies. Back in the day insurance couldn’t cross state lines. Just like banks used to be.

And a final note. I do not work for any BCBS company or any insurance company for that matter. I just know a moderate amount about them.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

The so-called “health insurance” companies are evil and need to die. All of them.

First off, they aren’t insurance companies. The product they provide does not resemble any other insurance. Imagine if your car insurance worked like your health “insurance”: you’d file a claim every time you went to a gas station or a car wash, and if you ever had a fender bender, you’d have to be extra-careful to take it to an in-network body shop or risk having to pay for all the repairs out-of-pocket.

Imagine if homeowner’s insurance worked like health “insurance”. You want to build a new deck, so you check your paperwork to figure out whether it’s Home Depot or Lowe’s that’s supported, because there’s no way you can afford the $20,000 in materials yourself.

No, it’s not insurance at all; it’s something far more insidious: the vehicle for the financial industry’s takeover of our health care system. Here’s how it works:

1) Get the talking heads on TV to complain about the cost of health care.
2) Start selling an insurance product to cover the cost of health care.
3) Coordinate with large companies to offer this insurance product in bulk to their employees. It’s a benefit!
4) Once a large enough percentage of patients are on health insurance rather than paying out of pocket, conspire with the hospitals to raise prices outrageously on anyone who doesn’t have health insurance, which prices everyone paying out-of-pocket out of the market. (Except, of course, the super-rich.)
5) Now that you’re paying all the bills for the hospital… well, you know what they call the person who pays all the bills, right? He’s called “Boss.” At this point, things get even more sinister: by deciding what will and what won’t be covered, (by arbitrarily declaring certain treatments “experimental,” for example,) the financial industry is now literally in a position to decide who lives and who dies.
6) Get a conservative think tank who’s very friendly to the financial industry to propose an “individual mandate:” everyone has to buy your financial product whether they need it or not. When that fails, wait for a new President and a new Congress, dress the idea up as a liberal idea, and ram it through. Now they get to decide who lives and who dies among the entire nation.

Next time you hear talking heads going on about the problem of the uninsured, just remember. We don’t need 30 million less uninsured people in the USA, or whatever the latest target number is. What we need is 300 million more. It’s simple supply and demand: when everyone’s paying for their own health care expenses out of pocket again, everyone will be able to afford to again.

I’d be just fine with real health insurance. I’d gladly buy a policy that covers severe injuries, cancer, major unexpected stuff like that, just like I’ve got my car covered by a policy for wrecks and serious damage. But what we have right now doesn’t look anything like that, and that’s a problem that needs to be fixed.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: (Mason Wheeler @0759)

You’re right about that!

But it’s not the only big problem with the US ‘health care insurance system’. The other big problem is the concept of said insurance being provided by employers. Federal laws and regulations since the 1940s requires government employees to be provided health insurance as an employee benefit, but private sector employers don’t have the same requirement. As a result you have folks who have insurance but don’t pay anything out of their own pocket, others who have insurance but do pay out of their own pocket, and those who don’t have insurance. Totally unfair! This should be ‘all or none’, and most other countries in the world are ‘none’ when it comes to employer provided health insurance.

John85851 (profile) says:

Re: Re: (Mason Wheeler @0759)

And why was health insurance added as a benefit to workers? Okay, I can see why companies would want to keep their employees healthy, but why not pay for auto insurance so employees could get to work on time or “food insurance” to make sure employees eat properly.

Then, over time, hospitals figured out that they could change more money care because it was covered by a company’s insurance. Then combine this with the fact that hospitals basically have a monopoly on their services, and there’s no reason to keep costs down.

Also, as an aside, has anyone wondered how a “non profit” hospital can afford to pay millions for a CEO or a new wing for the building? Hint: “non profit” simply means “spend all the money so there’s no profit, even if that means giving anything that’s left over to the CEO”.

Wendy Cockcroft says:

Re: Re: Re: (Mason Wheeler @0759)

Why not have a US version of the NHS, with private healthcare running alongside it competing on service? Google “BUPA” to get an idea of how this works in the UK.

A Libertarian friend told me that Medicaid (I’d have thought it would be “Medicare” but Andrew favours Medicaid) extended to all would actually be the way to provide that.

The only thing getting in the way of this sensible proposal is the people who profiteer from human suffering and those people thick enough to believe what the profiteers tell them.

As for those of you who think they don’t need medical coverage, if an accident or catastrophic health event doesn’t get you, old age will. We ALL need some kind of coverage, and tax-funded services work perfectly well.

Okay, the NHS isn’t perfect but it works for me.

jilocasin (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Actually employer based health insurance was first offered in one form back in the late 1800’s. Large numbers of employers started offering it during WWII as a way to attract employees as the government froze wages. So it’s been around long before television or other talking heads.

As I see it there are three fundamental problems with the current health insurance system (probably more, but these are the big three):

  1. Fee for service provides perverse incentives
  2. It’s literally you money or your life, or at least health
  3. Insurance is the wrong model for health services

1. Providers aren’t paid based on getting people healthy, but on how many times they are seen. So, if you mess up (don’t cure/correct) or cause a complication, the health care provider will make more money than if they successfully cured the patient.

A corollary is the pharmaceutical industry. You make the least amount of money for a vaccine and the most for a treatment.

2. Once the government stepped out of the way, health care providers know that health care isn’t like a trip to the ballpark or a new car, not paying for healthcare will leave you in pain, or perhaps dead. So they will charge whatever they want.

3.Insurance works when the thing you are insuring occurs infrequently and the risk can be spread out among a large pool of people. Car insurance; every one gets it, but it’s exceedingly rare that a sizable number of cars will make a claim at the same time (or at all). House insurance; everyone gets it, few people make claims. There’s a reason that flood insurance isn’t generally offered by private companies. Few people usually need it, but when claims are made there are usually a large number of them at the same time.

Health care on the other hand is something everyone is going to use, some more often than others. The people who really need it, will need it a lot, and everyone else will need it at least occasionally.

Combine that with #2 [when you need it, you really need it] and without careful price controls it’s going to cost much more than it should. What’s human lives and suffering when there’s profit to maximize?

Add in #1 and we are incentivizing the health industry to to make people require more health services than they should. Mistakes aren’t a problem, they’re an opportunity.

The solution is as simple as it’s unpalatable [to some], Universal Health Care. A free market/capitalistic solution is great at maximizing the profits of a select few. Unfortunately it does so by externalizing the costs to the rest of the economy and causing needless suffering and death.

Here’s the simple three step plan to universal health coverage in the United States:

  1. Everyone’s covered with the same plan
  2. All health care providers are required to accept it
  3. Everyone* contributes to paying for it

You can argue about the details until the cows come home, but those are the basics. Ideally prices would be set based on cost to deliver plus reasonable profit. Providers would be rewarded for successful treatments and penalized for mistakes. Treatments that weren’t successful through no fault of the provider would be treated neutrally. Pharma would be under the same rubric as other providers (cost plus reasonable profit) with the addition that patents for treatments are shorter than those for cures. Patents for immunizations longer than those for cures. To reflect the savings (in money and suffering) that each provides as an example.

The private health insurance industry may wither and die, but that’s probably a good thing. If your dog’s flee treatment doesn’t kill off the flees, it’s not an effective flee treatment. Any health care plan that doesn’t kill off the health insurance industry [and their perverse not paying for coverage, profit taking] isn’t an effective health care plan.

There are probably a few ways this could be accomplished. I would suggest we start by expanding Medicare/Medicaid to cover all services, for all people, accepted by all health care providers. Call it USA Care.

Replace government health care plans from the president on down with USA Care. Roll Medicare, Medicaid, TriCare, VA Care into USA Care. Require everyone to contribute to USA Care (lots of us are currently paying for Medicare even though we can’t actually use it). You can keep the VA health system to handle the unique requirements of service men and women, just pay for it via USA Care.

Phase it in over a few years. First convert all the existing government plans to it. Then expand it to all the poor, and then everyone without coverage. Mandate that private insurance provide the same benefits at the same price points. Employers will have to pay for equivalent private insurance until they switch and start paying the USA Care equivalent (think SS). They will clamor to drop their private coverage for the more affordable USA Care amounts.

In less than ten years, we will have a much more sane and sustainable health care system. Sure, Pharma, some hospitals, some doctors, and the now extinct health insurance industry (among others) will be making a lot less money than they are under the current system. But less of the GDP will be eaten up by health care costs, employees (and everyone else) will be healthier and more productive, companies will be better able to compete with their over seas competition (who are already operating under universal health care systems).

What’s not to like?

[*Everyone means everyone with money. Those too poor don’t have any to contribute. At the same time those too rich don’t get a pass.]

Wendy Cockcroft says:

Re: Re: Re:

You’re mostly right but I’d let private healthcare providers run alongside this competing on service. You’d get fewer people using the “S” word if you did.

We need to stop responding to dog whistle words and base our opinions on policies on their actual merits, not on compliance with ideological positions.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Very good points. #2 is why I’ve always said that for-profit healthcare is inherently a conflict of interest. (By which I mean actual health care; purely voluntary stuff like plastic surgery may be performed by doctors, but it’s not necessary to the maintenance of your health and so it belongs in a different category.)

The thing about #1 and #2 is, I’m all for free markets, but I also recognize the simple fact that they’re not a panacea. Free market principles only work when freedom exists in the marketplace. When it’s “your money or your life,” you don’t have that freedom, and the whole system breaks down, so it needs to be run under other principles rather than pretending we have a free market.

Monday (profile) says:

BCBS "Blue"

Forget biblical times, the Nuns have the greatest works of art on their side when it comes to the use of blue and Christianity.
Blue was a color for Jesus, God, and Muslims used (still do) blue extensively for a thousand years. And, this was way before the big bad devil took the form that most people started associating with it six hundred years ago until present.

I really would like to see the Nuns triumph in this David and Goliath struggle… sorry.

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