jonetta rose barras: Walter Smith’s 12-year fight against CareFirst on behalf of DC residents

Updated: Nov 24, 2021


The legal battle fought by Walter Smith and his organization DC Appleseed Center for Law and Justice to ensure a regional nonprofit corporate giant, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, contributes its fair share to improving the quality of health care for vulnerable District residents ensued through four mayors, three DC Council chairpersons and seven insurance commissioners. It came to an end last week. I’m not sure we should sing hallelujah just yet.

Mayor Muriel Bowser and CareFirst announced a $95 million settlement in the case. The official press release gave the impression that the resolution was the sole work of the executive. Moreover, Brian D. Pieninck, president and CEO of CareFirst, sounded as if his company was always interested in spending its money to serve vulnerable residents. “This is just the latest investment as part of CareFirst’s ongoing commitment to improving health while increasing accessibility, affordability and quality of care for all those who live, work and play in the communities and neighborhoods we serve across Washington, D.C., Maryland and Northern Virginia,” he said.

CareFirst came kicking and screaming. Bowser certainly helped seal the deal.

None of that would have happened without Smith and his team — which included pro bono professionals from Covington & Burling LLP, Harkins Cunningham LLP and Mathematica. They did the heavy lifting with more than a decade of legal work and multiple appearances before the DC Court of Appeals that forced the settlement.