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"CareFirst' turns out to be not such a first

When a group of seven Tampa Bay hospitals formed a not-for-profit health care network this year, it checked to make sure the name CareFirst Health Network wasn't already taken in Florida.

Oops.

It turns out that a Blue Cross and Blue Shield plan in Maryland had a trademark on the name. And although Blue Cross had no plans to use the name outside Maryland, it intended to protect its trademark rights.

It sent a polite letter to CareFirst, asking it to change the name.

"It didn't make any sense to fight it," said Bill Norsworthy, CareFirst's president.

Next month, CareFirst will probably become BayCare Health Network. But Norsworthy said the company still has some legal issues to work out before it knows for sure.

"I'm much more knowledgeable about trademarks now," he said.

CareFirst includes some of the region's biggest not-for-profit hospitals, including St. Joseph's and University Community in Tampa and Bayfront and Morton Plant in Pinellas County.

Norsworthy declined to estimate how much the name change will cost. But as a new company, CareFirst had yet to invest heavily in name recognition or advertising.

"It won't be very expensive," he said. "We're very glad it happened now and not later."

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