Big blue

Big blue


If you have health insurance in North Carolina, chances are you are “covered” by Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina. We say “covered” in scare quotes because the company — an independently operated subsidiary of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association — has a documented history of raising premiums or rescinding coverage for policyholders who become seriously ill. They also have a complaint against them filed by the NC Medical Society, which holds that BCBSNC “has engaged in numerous unfair and deceptive acts and practices designed to delay, deny, impede and reduce lawful reimbursement to NCMS physicians who are participating physicians in its networks.” And earlier this year, BCBSNC came under fire for botching the state employee health plan, turning what was projected to be a $57 million profit into a $79 million loss. By “chances are,” we mean BCB- SNC has a near monopoly on health care coverage in the Old North State, insuring more than 72 percent of those of us who buy health insurance. So when Families USA, a national non-profit, non-partisan organization that studies the health care industry, reported last week that in NC, health care costs have risen 97 percent since 2000, BCBSNC should absorb much of that blame — according to its own company website, BCBSNC “has increased its membership by nearly 100 percent between 2000 and 2007 and now serves more than 3.7 million members.” Either way: According to the study, premiums for working families in this state went from $6,649 to $13,083 a year, a number which represents about half of state residents’ median pay, which in 2009 is just over $27,000. Part of the problem is the near monopoly, which exists because under the current system each state has its own healthcare providers. In North Carolina four other companies offer health insurance: WellPathSelect, Cigna, Partners National and United Healthcare, though theirefforts combined account for less than a third of the total insured inthe state. And the state-by-state method has not stopped BlueCross Blue Shield subsidiaries from garnering more than 50 percent ofthe insurance policies issued in South Carolina, Louisiana, RhodeIsland, Michigan, Minnesota and Hawaii, and more than 70 percent of thetotal in states like Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, New Hampshire,Montana and Wyoming. But Blue Cross Blue Shield is breaking nolaws, merely operating under the current system, a deck stackedinexorably in its favor after years of successful lobbying, softlegislation and false reform. BCBSNC has publicly stated thatit supports a degree of health care reform, yet it has produced a90-second commercial with company CEO Bob Greczyn stating its caseagainst governmentrun health care. Through its actions, BCBSNC hasdemonstrated it is on nobody’s side but its own.

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