Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska's lawsuit alleging improper lobbying in the award of state government's health care benefits plan became a three-way brawl Monday.

Despite protests from Blue Cross, Lancaster District Court Judge Steven Burns approved United Healthcare's request to be allowed to intervene in the suit.

State officials recently announced plans to switch July 1 to Minneapolis-based United Healthcare after 27 years with Blue Cross, which is headquartered in Omaha.

Blue Cross alleges Nebraska Republican Party Chairman Mark Fahleson lobbied for United HealthCare while the request for bids was pending, which is against state regulations.

The Department of Administrative Services, which awarded the contract March 13, is under the authority of Republican Gov. Dave Heineman.

In the lawsuit, Blue Cross asks for the contract to be voided or stayed pending a review, among other things.

"What we are trying to do is apply the concept of justice and fairness and transparency as the statute would have in order that we can determine in what basis this contract was awarded," Blue Cross attorney Kermit Brashear said during the court hearing Monday.

Brashear argued against allowing United Healthcare to join in the suit. He said the state doesn't need the help, and if the insurance company is allowed to intervene, so should everyone else affected by the contract change.

"If United Healthcare can intervene and assist the state in (defending) this contract, then so should 30,000 state employees and their dependents and communities across the state," Brashear said. "The king needs no help in defending the sovereignty of the state of Nebraska."

United Healthcare attorney Craig Dirrin kept his argument simple: United Healthcare meets the statutory standard to join the lawsuit, and Blue Cross' argument about that setting a precedent allowing all employees and their dependents to intervene is a "red herring."

The judge agreed, saying he could not grant an injunction that would damage United Healthcare without the company being a party to the lawsuit.

Assistant Attorney General Dale Comer, who spoke at the hearing on behalf of the state, said Nebraska officials want to move forward with the bidding process and get health insurance in the most economical and fairest way possible, which is different than United Healthcare's interest as a business.

Because of that, the state did not oppose United Healthcare being allowed to join the suit, he said.

Reach Nicholas Bergin at 402-473-7304 or nbergin@journalstar.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/LJSBergin.

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