State News

Lawmakers question Blue Cross calls, mailers

Posted November 24, 2009

— Twenty North Carolina lawmakers are questioning political advocacy by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina.

The legislators on Tuesday asked Attorney General Roy Cooper and Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin to examine automated phone calls and mailers placed by the state's largest health insurer.

"As a corporation that claims to deliver innovative health care products and services to its members, Blue Cross Blue Shield appears to be engaging in a blatant political campaign utilizing the premiums paid by their customers," the letter said. "Even if there is no apparent violation of existing statutes, we think this is bad public policy that deserves further scrutiny."

Blue Cross sent fliers to selected people across the state, asking them to contact U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan to ask that she oppose the creation of a government-run health insurance plan that would compete with private plans.

"They're using our health care dollars to fund this campaign, which is just unacceptable. It's contrary to what a lot of policyholders want," said Adam Linker, a policy analyst with the North Carolina Health Access Coaltion, an organization that backs increased health care coverage for uninsured people.

State Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, said she heard from numerous constituents who were likewise upset about the campaign, so she spearheaded the request for investigations by the Department of Justice and the Department of Insurance.

"I think it's the particular method that they've chosen. I think it's this sort of heavy-handed tactics of scaring policyholders," Harrison said.

Lawmakers said they think Blue Cross violated rules for the Do Not Call Registry in making automated calls, and they questioned the company's advocacy effort, noting that it has had a tax-preferred status for decades.

"These robo-calls had nothing to do with providing care to patients but were instead used to advocate a specific political stance," the letter said. "While we are strongly committed to the First Amendment, we do not believe that policy holders intended for their relationship with Blue Cross to be used in this manner."

The Attorney General's Office already has contacted Blue Cross officials, and company spokesman Lew Borman said the insurer is cooperating with the investigation.

Borman declined to comment on whether the calls and fliers violated any regulations, saying only that Blue Cross must be involved in the health care reform debate.

"We feel like we had the right, and in many ways the responsibility, to communicate with North Carolinians," he said.

Blue Cross leaders plan to continue speaking out on health care reform, he said, but there are no plans to call customers directly again.

43 Comments

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  • Vietnam Vet Nov 25, 3:19 p.m.

    As long as they're not violating any laws this company has a right to spend their profits any way they see fit. If anyone does not approve of how they're spending their money they also have the right to take their business elsewhere! Where does the legislature get off trying to tell Blue Cross how to conduct their business??

  • whatusay Nov 25, 10:55 a.m.

    Most companies in this country advertise, and have a right to do so. ACORN, GM, US owned banks, and insurance companies all advertise with tax payers money. So why is it wrong for BCBS to advertise or lobby?

  • whatusay Nov 25, 10:52 a.m.

    Why is it ok for the US Government to use tax payers dollars to advance Obama Care, no difference. Blue Cross and the US Gov't are both lobbying. Only difference is politicians want to limit free speech if it does not agree with their socialist agenda. We need to vote these socialists out in 2010 and preserve the few freedoms we have left.

    I WOULD BE WILLING TO PAY MORE TO KEEP A FREE MARKET THAN TURN MY FREEDOMS OVER TO THE GOVERNMENT.

    But, all analysts say Obama Care will cost much more than BCBS and increase the national debt in the long run.

  • exteacher Nov 24, 7:58 p.m.

    No Redneck says, "This won't go to far. BCBS has most of NC's politicians in their back pockets anyway. How else do you explain very little competition from any other insurance companies? And why can't the state negotiate a cheaper rate for 12,000 employees? We pay over $450 a month to cover 3 people (mine is free) and that is one of the cheaper plans with high deductible. It's a ripoff!"

    Since the STATE HEALTH PLAN is what you have as a state employee, who would you suggest they negotiate with for a lower rate? THEMSELVES??? You DO NOT have BCBS insurance. BCBS ONLY administers the plan, paying out what is allowed by the STATE HEALTH PLAN, aka GOVERNMENT INSURANCE!! If you don't like your rate, call Jack Walker, who runs the STATE Health Plan; or contact your legislator who is on the 'board of directors.'

    Also, there are over 2 dozen insurance companies operating in NC. If you don't like your STATE HEALTH PLAN, go to one of those other companies.

  • jgriffith3792 Nov 24, 7:43 p.m.

    "Don't feel bad, there are many like you. You probably have enough of your share of the pie to keep you fat and content. But the majority of the people are starting to want their slice of the pie, also." twc

    Yes. I have enough of my share. I put myself through college and worked for what I have. The problem, as you stated, the majority of people want their slice of the pie. But, they - not all - are not willing to make the sacrifices and work for it - "just give it to me". Which is bad because those who have worked for what they have and lost it due to misfortune suffer because of those that feel they deserve "their slice of the pie".

    This is a capitalist society, if you don't like it, well, sure you know what to do.

  • flyguync Nov 24, 7:39 p.m.

    ""they want to be involved in the health care debate" Sounds like they want to control it."

    There is no debate, the Dems control it all. What about "reaching across the aisle" that Obama promised as a candidate? Just another lie!

  • gtstallings45 Nov 24, 7:07 p.m.

    Wonder how many of these high level BCBS execs have Bev in their proverbial back pockets. Show us some transparency on this point Bev!!!

  • Milkman Nov 24, 6:41 p.m.

    BCBS operates on 4.5% profits, but part of their expenses is millions upon millions paid to lobbyists, huge advertising campaigns, robocalls, political donations, the list goes on of the things if BSCS didn't spend our premium dollars on our insurance would be cheaper.

  • dogman1973 Nov 24, 6:24 p.m.

    I think instead lawmakers should be questioned on their inability to listen to the WILL OF THE PEOPLE!

  • rand321 Nov 24, 6:05 p.m.

    BCBS charges you for state employment benefits what the State Plan Adminstration and legislature determine. the plan has run nearly a billion dollar deficit the past two years.. That means your state health premiums were BELOW COST!!

    The public option as outlined the House and Senate bills will have to cover costs, SGA expenses and run a fund reserve or cushion for unexpected future losses.

    e.g. the state employee health rates is the public option.

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