WRAL Investigates

'Trust has been broken': NC insurance chief calls for Blue Cross CEO to resign after DWI arrest

Posted September 25, 2019 9:43 a.m. EDT
Updated September 25, 2019 6:35 p.m. EDT

— State Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey called Wednesday for the chief executive of Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina to resign in the wake of his impaired driving arrest.

"There's been a significant breakdown in the corporate governance at Blue Cross," Causey said at a news conference, calling the actions of both Dr. Patrick Conway and the Blue Cross board "disturbing."

Conway, 45, was charged with driving while impaired, reckless driving and two counts of misdemeanor child abuse in a June 22 incident on Interstate 85 in Randolph County.

Cellphone video obtained Monday by WRAL Investigates shows an SUV driven by Conway swerving across the highway before crashing into the back of a Harris Teeter tractor-trailer.

No one was injured in the crash, but Conway's two daughters, ages 9 and 7, were in the SUV at the time, which was the basis for the child abuse charges.

Blue Cross' board didn't inform state regulators of Conway's arrest for three months and then "misrepresented" the nature of the case, Causey said, calling the incident "anything but routine."

Archdale police ended up responding to the 3:30 p.m. crash. In a confidential portion of a police report obtained by WRAL Investigates, Officer Z.R. Livingston said Conway had bloodshot eyes, smelled of alcohol and had trouble standing up when he got out of the SUV.

Conway initially told officers he fell asleep while driving after working third shift the previous night and getting off at 7 a.m. He said he was traveling from Raleigh to Lake James, near Morganton. Later, he admitted to having two beers before driving.

Livingston and other officers performed field sobriety tests, and Conway had difficulty maintaining his balance.

"Once handcuffed, Conway stated numerous times, 'You had a choice. You made the wrong one. I haven't done anything wrong,'" the report states.

At the Archdale police station, Conway became "absolutely belligerent," refusing a breath-alcohol test and cursing at officers. When he was put in a holding cell, he began kicking and pounding on the door and had to be shackled.

Livingston said Conway threatened him in the drive from the police station to the Randolph County jail in Asheboro.

"'You had a choice. You could have let me go. You don't know who I am. I am a doctor, a CO of a company. I'll call Governor Cooper and get you in trouble.' Conway also asked multiple times for me to just unarrest him and let him go," the report states.

Before seeing a magistrate at the jail, Conway began pulling his hair out and said, "I'm so [expletive] stupid. I have messed up so bad," the report states. He then had so much difficulty signing the documents for his unsecured bond that the magistrate had to point out the two places for him to sign.

"Dr. Conway showed a lack of professionalism, respect and composure for law enforcement officers and the legal process," Causey said. "There is no path forward for this [commissioner's] office to have a trusting, confident and reliable working relationship with the chief executive officer of Blue Cross of North Carolina."

Helen Witty, the national director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, also criticized Conway's actions on Wednesday, saying the organization is "profoundly shocked."

"It is beyond comprehension that anyone, especially a medical doctor who is trained to save lives, would choose to drive impaired," Witty said in a statement. "He didn’t just put his own safety at risk. It is miraculous that he did not kill himself, his children or any of the scores of innocent people he encountered on the road that afternoon."

Conway said in a statement issued Tuesday, “I deeply regret this incident and the events that day as it is not consistent with the conduct that I strive to embody in my personal and professional life. I am taking this very seriously and am committed to dealing with the situation appropriately."

He is scheduled to appear in court on Oct. 8.

The North Carolina Medical Board, which licenses and handles discipline of physicians in the state, declined to comment on Conway but said it was aware of his case.

"The board investigates when it has information that a licensee may have engaged in unprofessional or criminal conduct," the board said in a statement.

Causey last week suggested Blue Cross name an interim CEO until the criminal charges against Conway were resolved. He said he changed his mind Tuesday after reading accounts of Conway's actions to push for his ouster, although he acknowledged he has no authority to remove Conway.

Blue Cross officials didn't respond to requests for comment Wednesday, but board members were reportedly meeting behind closed doors Wednesday afternoon regarding Conway.

Causey also accused the Blue Cross board of covering up the arrest and failing to fulfill its fiduciary duty to policyholders.

"Call it what you want, they were not transparent," he said, noting that the company appears to have done little investigation of Conway's actions other than hiring a national public relations firm "to make all this go away."

Blue Cross has said a board committee investigated the incident and determined Conway, who was paid $3.59 million last year, is a good leader who should stay on the job. Chairman Frank B. Holding Jr. also noted in a Monday letter to Causey that Conway has completed a 30-day, in-patient substance abuse treatment program.

Causey said that a pending merger between Blue Cross and Portland, Ore.-based Cambia Health Solutions, which owns a Blue Cross program in Oregon, Idaho, Utah and Washington, required that regulators be informed within two days of any actions that could affect the deal.

Blue Cross officials said Tuesday that deal is now on hold, and Washington's insurance commissioner blasted Cambia's board of directors for withholding information on Conway's arrest from him until late last week, when news reports about it started circulating.

"I was informed in an unorthodox and unacceptable fashion long after the event. In fact, I can only conclude that the sole reason I received a call is that Cambia was concerned I might hear about it first through the media," Commissioner Mike Kreidler wrote in the letter.

Causey praised Blue Cross for its work on behalf of the State Health Plan and employer-sponsored and Affordable Care Act health coverage it provides to hundreds of thousands of state residents. But he said "trust has been broken" between his office and the company.

"I can deal with the criminal charges [against Conway], as bad as they are, but I cannot accept the coverup, the misrepresentation of facts, the lack of respect for oversight and regulation of a company and the lack of respect for law enforcement officers who are doing their duty."

———

Travis Fain, WRAL statehouse reporter, contributed to this report

Our commenting policy has changed. If you would like to comment, please share on social media using the icons below and comment there.