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BCBS, ProCare Take Controversy To Airwaves

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DURHAM, N.C. — Anyone in the Triangle who listens to the radio probably has heard the war of words over the plan by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina to convert to a for-profit company.

The ads are hitting the airwaves just in time to welcome state lawmakers back to Raleigh. It's part of a controversy that doesn't seem ready to die down.

Blue Cross's battle to gain for-profit status has heated up at the same time that ProCare, a coalition of pharmacists and physicians, begins its campaign against the change.

Here's part of one of ProCare's new commericals:

"Higher taxes, higher profits, bigger bonuses -- new costs that can mean higher health insurance premiums for Blue Cross policy holders."

According to Blue Cross CEO Bob Greczyn, the company must respond.

"We wouldn't have started this," Greczyn said. "This is their idea.

"Our job at this point is to set the record straight, and we're going to do whatever it takes to set the record straight."

Here's part of the Blue Cross commercial:

"You've probably heard their radio ads attacking Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina. These attacks cover up their real agenda: more profits for anesthesiologists and pharmacists."

On the surface, the issue seems to be money.

"Let's not be naive," said Adam Searing, a consumer advocate. "I think that's certainly true. Doctors and pharmacists get paid by insurance companies. Insurance companies make money off of consumers."

Greczyn said the ProCare ads are more about the group's legislative agenda than the Blue Cross conversion.

"This is a political fight," he said. "We've opposed them in the past, and we will continue to oppose them in the future."

The ProCare campaign is being run by veteran political strategists Gary Pearce and Carter Wrenn, no strangers to "Gloves-off" ads. They say there's not been enough discussion about conversion.

"We are going to be running ads across the state, yes," Pearce said. "We are going to be looking at newspaper advertising and television advertising as we go along."

Greczyn said Blue Cross will counter ProCare's campaign at every turn.

The decision on for-profit status is expected in a couple of months. Blue Cross could go before the Legislature again if the request is turned down.

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