Local News

BlueCross BlueShield, Insurance Dept. May Go To Court Over Release Of Documents

Posted June 17, 2003

— BlueCross BlueShield has spent over $17 million so far trying to win state approval to convert to a for-profit company. The process has gotten contentious at times, with questions over possible rate increases. BlueCross BlueShield has been accused of stonewalling consultants and the Department of Insurance. But now, they are arguing over how much the public should know.

Consultant reports cost BlueCross BlueShield millions of dollars to produce, but the documents do not tell the whole story. Portions of the reports given to WRAL are redacted -- blacked out and censored from the public.

When asked whether the public might feel BlueCross BlueShield is trying to hide something, spokeswoman Michelle Douglas said, "We need to do what we have to do to protect our viability as a company."

Douglas said the conversion law protects the company from releasing trade secrets.

"The parts of the reports that are blacked out are blacked out precisely and only because they contain information that would be harmful to our company if it were in the hands of our competitors," she said.

Chrissy Pearson, spokeswoman for the state Department of Insurance, said the agency is willing to go to court to uncover some of the black.

"It is frustrating whenever there are blacked-out portions of the report because people can't see what is behind the black and can't tell what we were thinking when the decision ends up being made," she said.

Pearson said parts of the censured information relate to potential rate hikes, mergers and acquisitions, and the value of a Blue Cross-proposed charitable foundation.

"All of those things could effect policyholders and could affect the state of health insurance in North Carolina, and we believe some of that information deserves to be held out of the citizens' [report]," she said.

Although information is withheld from the public, the insurance commissioner does have access to the entire reports. If the two sides cannot agree on public release, the matter will likely go to an administrative hearing and possibly court.

Meanwhile, a final decision on the company's conversion is expected by late summer.

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