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SPRINGFIELD - Rather than saving $1 billion over a decade, opponents of a plan to switch health insurance providers for state workers and retirees say it could cost $500 million more.

The winning bidder doesn't operate in 64 downstate counties, one of the losing bidders told a packed hearing room at the Capitol Wednesday.

Because of that,Health Alliance CEO Jeff Ingrum said, the switch could force an estimated 90,000 employees and retirees into more expensive coverage.

Not only could that cost the state more money, but it would likely cost retirees and workers more, said Ingrum, whose Urbana-based firm lost out in the recent round of bidding to Blue Cross Blue Shield.

"They will pay much more in out-of-pocket health-care costs," he said.

The testimony came at a public hearing designed to gather information from people affected by the Quinn administration's decision to switch health insurance providers.

Citing a possible savings of $100 million per year over 10 years, state officials awarded Chicago-based Blue Cross a large part of the contract that had been held by Health Alliance and Humana.

Health Alliance and Humana have filed protests to try to overturn the decision.

Lawmakers have been inundated with calls from constituents worried about having to find new doctors or having to drive long distances to find doctors in the HMO network.

"We've got a problem. Our constituents are coming to us," said state Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro.

State Rep. Mary Flowers, D-Chicago, said the change in coverage could leave the state vulnerable to lawsuits if people cannot get adequate health care.

"You would be causing the death of so many people," Flowers told Matt Brown, the state's chief procurement officer.

Brown said his office will review the contract award in the coming weeks to determine whether the proposal should be rebid.

"We do have the authority to overturn an award," Brown said.

It's not the first time the state has tried to drop Urbana-based Health Alliance. Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich attempted to switch the state's main HMO in 2004 but was blocked by lawmakers after employees and retirees said they wouldn't get as good coverage if Health Alliance was not involved.

The General Assembly has the ability to review the contract, but a timeline for action remained unclear Wednesday.

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