Blue Cross CEO should have been fired
When the CEO of a company resigns, it doesn’t usually make the front page. But it’s a different story when that resignation involves the state’s largest health insurer, serious criminal charges and corporate cover-ups. This is the alleged saga of Patrick Conway, who had served as President and Chief Executive Officer of Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina since October 2017, before stepping down last week amidst a flurry of troubling developments.
On June 22 of this year, Conway reportedly became intoxicated, then loaded his two children into the family car, and went for a drive. After being pulled over by police for allegedly side-swiping a tractor-trailer along Interstate 85 in Randolph County, Conway refused to take a breathalyzer test, so he was arrested for reckless driving and driving while impaired. He was also charged with two counts of child abuse, and his license was revoked for 30 days.
Early last week, after sitting on this information for over three months, the Blue Cross board finally decided to go public. Did they fire Conway? No. Did they dock Conway’s pay? No. Instead, the BCBS board issued a statement that praised Conway’s service to the company, “Patrick’s strong leadership will continue to be an asset, and he will remain as President and CEO.”
Are you kidding me? What leadership? Do you mean the kind of leadership in which a father endangers the lives of his own daughters and puts other motorists at risk? More likely, the board was referring to the kind of leadership in which a man spends his days figuring out how to increase our health care premiums, raise our deductibles and deny our claims so that he can improve the company’s bottom line.
In response to the Blue Cross board’s announcement, State Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey sent a letter to BCBS Board Chair Frank Holding, in which, according to Tribune News Service, he called the charges against Conway, “alarming.” Causey also wrote, “What is even more alarming is the appearance that the board and the executive team worked to hide the arrest from the public’s attention…Then was almost dismissive of the troubling charges when reported in the news media. One would expect the board and executive team to be much more accountable, responsible, and transparent to their policyholders and to the public at large.”
But Causey’s outrage grew when he began to learn even more details about the June arrest that were withheld from him by big Blue’s board. For one thing, he wasn’t told of the accident, only the charges. Then came disclosure by WRAL-TV of the actual police report where Conway told the arresting officer, “You had a choice. You could have let me go. You don’t know who I am. I am a doctor, a CEO of a company. I’ll call Governor Cooper and get you in trouble.”
Causey then issued a new statement, “The Blue Cross board misrepresented to the Department of Insurance the actual arrest – telling me that the (arrest) was without incident, and was a routine arrest…the arrest was anything but routine…I cannot move forward with any type of trust and confidence in the CEO at BCBS NC. ”
Causey’s words were handwriting on the wall for Conway who announced his resignation that same day.
Perhaps if Patrick Conway had worked in the mailroom at Blue Cross, instead of the executive suite, then the charges against him wouldn’t have had as much public relevance. But the CEO of a health insurance company who endangers the health and lives of others doesn’t deserve a second chance. Neither, by the way, does the Blue Cross board, who, along with Conway, violated the company’s own Code of Conduct. According to the Blue Cross website, that Code requires “ethical and lawful conduct for every employee and member of our Board of Trustees.” So much for honoring a code.
Conway should have been fired three months ago, and now he’s finally gone. But the Blue Cross board, which Commissioner Causey accused of a “cover-up,” is still operating, and that should be of great concern to every policyholder in the state.
Jim Longworth is the host of Triad Today, airing on Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. on ABC45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 11 a.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).