NC Health Insurer Being Probed For Campaign Against Public Option

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BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina is being investigated by the state’s attorney general for a recent mailer and spate of robo-calls in opposition to the public option, according to a company spokesman.

In October, TPMmuckraker reported that the insurance company had sent a mailer to millions of its customers asking them to urge the state’s Democratic senator, Kay Hagan, (D-NC) to oppose a public option. The insurance company also deployed a related robocall.Today, a group of 20 state legislators asked Attorney General Roy Cooper and Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin to probe whether BCBS violated laws restricting robo-calls, as well as whether it engaged in political advocacy using the premiums of its customers.

But the probe the lawmakers are calling for appears to be underway already. “We received an inquiry from the AG’s office a couple weeks ago,” about whether the campaign violated laws, Lew Borman, a spokesman for BCBS of North Carolina, told TPMmuckraker. “We don’t believe we broke any laws,” Borman added.

The campaign to sway Hagan may have been misplaced from the start. Borman told TPMmuckraker last month that BCBS targeted Hagan because she hadn’t yet committed to a public option. But Hagan helped write and pass the Senate Health, Labor and Education committee’s version of the public option, which was stronger than the current Senate bill.

Here’s the full text of the lawmakers’ letter to Cooper and Goodwin:

The Honorable Roy Cooper
Attorney General
The State of North Carolina

The Honorable Wayne Goodwin
Commissioner of Insurance
The State of North Carolina

Dear Attorney General Cooper and Commissioner Goodwin:
In an apparent effort to maintain its dominance and control of the state health care market, BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina has spent thousands of dollars paid by policy holders asking them to mail a pre-printed postcard to Senator Kay Hagan urging her to oppose health care reform and has engaged in automatic robo-calls urging policy holders to act on the mailings. This is most troubling to us as lawmakers and North Carolinians . We have heard from a number of constituents who are equally troubled. We have the following specific concerns.
We are concerned that BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina has violated the intent of the Do Not Call Registry by using the exemption requiring a prior business relationship to engage in political advocacy. These robo-calls had nothing to do with providing care to patients, but were instead used to advocate a specific political stance. While we are strongly committed to the first amendment, we do not believe that policy holders intended for their relationship with blue cross to be used in this manner. We also believe BlueCross BlueShield has potentially broken the automatic dialing statute by not providing the contact information of the unsolicited caller in this recorded message. This lack of contact information appears to be in violation of federal guidelines surrounding automated calls as well.

Page II November 24, 2009
Attorney General Cooper
Commissioner of Insurance Goodwin

Further, given BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina ‘s status as a not-for-profit with a share of 96.8% in our individual insurance market built on over 60 years of preferred tax exemptions, we are concerned as a matter of public policy and ethical business practices that they have inappropriately engaged in political advocacy. As a corporation that claims to deliver innovative health care products and services to its members, BlueCross BlueShield appears to be engaging in a blatant political campaign utilizing the premiums paid by their customers. Even if there is no apparent violation of existing statutes, we think this is bad public policy that deserves further scrutiny.
We would very much appreciate your respective offices investigating these issues for any potential violation of state laws or regulations.
Thank you for your service to our state.

Sen. Stan Bingham Sen. Katie Dorsett Sen. Ellie Kinnaird
Rep. Alma Adams Rep. Larry Bell Rep. Angela Bryant
Rep. Susan Fisher Rep. Rick Glazier Rep. Pricey Harrison
Rep. Verla Insko Rep. Marvin Lucas Rep. Paul Luebke
Rep. Marian McLawhorn Rep. Grier Martin Rep. Garland Pierce
Rep. Ray Rapp Rep. Deborah Ross Rep. Alice Underhill Rep. Edith Warren Rep. Larry Womble

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