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Durham delays decision whether to drop hometown insurer

Posted June 1, 2015

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— Durham city leaders sent a decision to switch health coverage for city employees to Aetna from longtime insurer Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina back to a committee Monday night.

The proposal, made by Mayor Bill Bell, came after Mayor Pro Tem Cora Cole-McFadden voiced her support for Blue Cross while Councilman Steve Schewel said he wanted to go with Aetna due to what he described as "benefits to taxpayers and employees."

Staff will now make a final recommendation to the city council. Officials did not say when the issue will return for a vote.

The decision is even more complicated by the fact that Blue Cross operations in Durham employ more than 1,000 people, and the company will soon move its headquarters – and another 3,500 workers – to the city from Chapel Hill.

"On the emotional side, it's a difficult decision. They are a large employer. I have friends who work for Blue Cross Blue Shield, and they do do great work in Durham," Councilman Don Moffitt said before Monday's meeting. "On the business side, though, we have to do what's in the best interest of our taxpayers and employees."

City officials said moving to Aetna could save Durham $6.7 million over three years. Blue Cross spokesman Lew Borman said his firm's rates are competitive and that Durham is using skewed numbers to compare the two companies.

"We know we’ve given the city good service, dependable service over the past 13 years," Borman said. "This contract means a lot to us. In addition, we need to make sure we are playing on a level playing field and both proposals are being evaluated in the same way."

Moffitt said some people have argued that spending an extra $6.7 million for the jobs Blue Cross has brought to the city would be a good investment.

"That, I think, is an argument that might be able to be made, but that’s not the decision we are making tonight, and that’s not the item for which we have information," he said. "If Blue Cross Blue Shield wants to make that case to us, then they should do so."

Blue Cross Chief Executive Brad Wilson and dozens of employees packed the council meeting wearing blue "Made in Durham" T-shirts.

"This one counts," Borman said before the meeting. "If there is something that doesn’t make sense, our CEO said, 'Put it in the contract, and we’ll make sure we meet that.'"

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