Local News

Workers urge Blue Cross to back health reform

Posted July 15, 2009 1:17 p.m. EDT
Updated July 15, 2009 3:31 p.m. EDT

— State employees rallied Wednesday morning outside the headquarters of Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, urging the state's largest insurer to back nationwide health-care reform instead of fighting it.

Members of the State Employees Association of North Carolina lined U.S. Highway 15/501, chanting and waving signs supporting the so-called "public option" that President Barack Obama has proposed as a guaranteed backstop to ensure all Americans have health insurance.

The employees said insurance premiums are so expensive that they can't afford health coverage for their spouses or children. They said the public option would lower costs.

"We have families who are spending $500 and $600 a month for health care insurance, and they are only bringing home maybe $1,500, $1,600 a month," state employee Doris Daye said.

Cheryl Moon said her boyfriend's medical bills are so high they are looking at filing for bankruptcy protection.

"If we had an option, we might be able to choose a plan that's more adequate for what he needs," said Moon, a retired state worker.

Blue Cross officials have said they support health care reform, but they believe a public option would price them out of business by underpaying providers and passing that cost along to the private insurers.

"They should not stand in the way of meaningful, affordable health care reform in the country," said Dana Cope, SEANC executive director. "North Carolina's Blue Cross Blue Shield is leading the national effort against President Obama's health-reform plan, and that's a shame."

Barbara Morales Burke, Blue Cross vice president for health policy, said Cope and the state workers are misinterpreting the company's position.

"We're not saying 'not the Obama plan,'" Burke said. "We are not in favor of a government option – a government insurance option – but we are in favor of many things that I understand to be part of the Obama plan, which (are) covering everyone, promoting quality and containing costs."

She said more than two dozen insurers already provide health coverage in North Carolina, so the state doesn't need a public option.

"I'm not sure what one more choice would do," she said.

Dr. Gustavo Montana, a radiation oncologist, said he thinks the nation should move away from a health insurance system largely funded by employers. Many patients who are unemployed or work part time can't get coverage, he said.

"Employment used to be a more secure, if you will, thing for people," Montana said.

Burke said the solution is not for the government to provide health care, but to subsidize it in some instances to make it more affordable.

"That's where we think the role of government comes in – to assist people who can't afford today to buy coverage," she said. "If we get everyone covered and do nothing else, then we will have a system that will blow up."