Local News

Group targets Blue Cross in Beltline billboard

Posted September 22, 2009 6:29 p.m. EDT
Updated September 22, 2009 7:49 p.m. EDT

— The national debate over health care reform reached new heights in Raleigh Tuesday when a group put up a billboard blasting Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina.

The billboard, one of three nationwide paid for by Health Care for America NOW, features a cemetery filled with blue crosses under the heading "Health Coverage Denied."

Protesters, who held demonstrations outside Blue Cross' headquarters in Chapel Hill and near the site of the billboard along the Interstate 440 Beltline in Raleigh, said they believe Blue Cross is spending more than $640,000 a day to fight health care reform and is denying people's medical claims at the same time.

"We feel, if the insurance company wins, all of us will lose," protest organizer Lynice Williams said.

About 150 protests were held nationwide Tuesday. Health Care for America NOW is a grassroots group that counts organizations from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to the Sanderson High School Young Democrats among its supporters.

"I don't believe that the people that are for real reform have had an adequate voice," protester Jim Potter said. "We are definitely not trying to cut off debate. We just want to have our voices heard."

Potter has a son with cerebral palsy and said his insurance premiums skyrocketed by 700 percent when he moved from New Jersey to North Carolina.

Blue Cross denies the protesters' allegations. Spokesman Lew Borman said North Carolina's largest insurer processes more than 138,000 claims a day and denies very few.

Borman couldn't give precise numbers, but the state Department of Insurance said there have been 1,215 complaints about denied health claims by all insurance companies since the beginning of 2008.

"These are real serious issues. It is a serious discussion. It's not about bumper stickers and billboards," Borman said. "What does that billboard do to move health reform forward?"

Health Care for America NOW supports the controversial "public option" that President Barack Obama has called for to ensure all Americans have health coverage. The proposal would create a government-sponsored health plan for people who can't obtain private insurance.

Blue Cross wants to see universal coverage but supports government subsidies for people who can't afford insurance rather than the public option plan.

"The vast majority of the things the president has been talking about are things that we at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina firmly support," Borman said.

The billboard will remain near the U.S. Highway 64 interchange along the Beltline for up for two weeks. Health Care for America NOW paid $10,500 for the billboard and similar signs in Wilmington, Del., and Little Rock, Ark.