MEDIA RELEASE: NC Blue Cross makes “brazen power grab” to undermine health care choice for consumers

National observer cites North Carolina’s largest insurer as an object lesson in why insurance companies “cannot be trusted to do the right thing for consumers

RALEIGH (Feb. 23, 2011) – A national news analyst and former insurance executive blasted North Carolina Blue Cross Blue Shield today, citing new evidence that “they cannot be trusted to do the right thing for consumers.”

At the same time Blue Cross Blue Shield executives pledged to help enact health reform, they were already “using millions in policyholder premium dollars to conduct a scare campaign against many of the key reform proposals,” says an article released today by Wendell Potter.

News analyst Wendell Potter, a former insurance company executive, is the author of Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans.

Plus, North Carolina’s largest insurer has helped draft a bill to undermine health insurance competition that would benefit consumers. This would amount to little more than a “brazen power grab,” Potter says.

The Affordable Care Act directs states to have exchanges up and running by January 1, 2014. The federal health reform law encourages states to establish exchanges that promote effective competition for health insurance and offer a wide selection of coverage options to individuals and businesses.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina has helped draft a bill that would give the firm power to “do the exact opposite of what Congress intended,” Potter writes. “If enacted, the bill would actually enable BCBSNC to control the exchange’s ruling body, which could lead to a further reduction in competition and an undermining of efforts to help consumers make prudent choices when buying coverage.”
If the bill becomes law, consumer advocates say, the exchange could become little more than a means for Blue Cross Blue Shield to increases its market share and ensnare more people in costly, inadequate health care plans.
“Consumer advocates say they had previously been lulled into thinking that BCBSNC could be trusted because the insurer participated—seemingly as a good-faith partner—in a broad process to craft a consensus exchange bill to present to lawmakers this year,” Potter writes.

Among those consumer advocates is the NC Justice Center’s Health Access Coalition. HAC’s Adam Linker says that consumer groups worked tirelessly and made compromises to write exchange recommendations that insurance companies could accept.
But Blue Cross, contrary to promises, ignored consumer groups and secretly moved to file an anti-consumer bill.

“I can’t overemphasize how hard consumers worked to get agreement from Blue Cross,” Linker told Potter. “We put our reputations on the line. We spent hours in negotiations. But Blue Cross betrayed the process and betrayed us by filing a radically anti-consumer bill. They promised that even if they disagreed with us on an issue they would keep us informed of what they were doing. Obviously, we were duped.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT: Jeff Shaw, director of communications, 503.551.3615; Adam Linker, 919.861.2074.
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