Poison pen

No wonder a big insurance company's push against health care reform upsets many North Carolinians.

October 30, 2009 

Kay Hagan, the junior U.S. senator from North Carolina, is represented in a mailing from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of N.C. with a flattering color photograph. And for the convenience of recipients, a postage-paid card is included to mail to Hagan.

Just a friendly hello? Not hardly. BCBS wants folks to try to intimidate Hagan, a Democrat, into voting against health care reform, specifically the government-sponsored insurance plan that has reappeared in the Senate. Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid said the so-called "public option" (with a proviso allowing states to opt out) will be part of reform legislation.

That's important, because the idea of having a government plan that would compete with private insurers such as BCBS appears to have support in the House. If it gets through the Senate, BCBS and other health insurers would have a new competitor that might force rates down for everyone.

The public option appeared dead for a while, but it's clear there's been some blowback against the well-organized opposition to reform that appeared some months ago. Senators must have taken note of the public pulse.

And speaking of the public pulse, it was beating more rapidly than normal for BCBS customers before the latest mailing, with notification that the company would be raising rates by an average of 11 percent next year. Hmmm...those slick anti-public option letters must be expensive. Those customers apparently aren't as naïve as BCBS thinks they are: After the mailing, many called Hagan's office to support a public option, and others have marked through the canned anti-option message on BCBS' cards and mailed the cards anyway.

BCBS isn't worried, by the way, about North Carolina's other senator, Republican Richard Burr. He's a big proponent of free-market solutions to health care reform, so he's not likely to strain their leash. He'll reliably vote against Democratic reform plans, even though they would address problems experienced by many Americans who have been denied coverage or priced out of it, or had a specific treatment rejected by long-distance insurance company representatives.

It's curious, of course, that after some insurance industry leaders appeared to endorse at least the concept of, and necessity for, health care reform in a country that desperately needs it, those same people appear to have changed their minds and have decided to stand against anything that might cost them a nickel or put them up against a real competitor. (Typically, a handful of companies control most of the coverage in a given state, and BCBS dominates North Carolina.)

Ah, well, let's hope Sen. Hagan doesn't fall for scare tactics. Shouts about a government-run health care program, as if it were revolutionary, don't make much sense, anyway. Does the word Medicare ring a bell?

It's quite sad and quite selfish that companies such as BCBS of North Carolina are using the same old catch phrases and simplistic arguments (insulting to the public's intelligence as well) that have held reform at bay for too many years. The problem is that more and more Americans have realized through painful and expensive personal experience that the system they're in, even when they have insurance, often doesn't work. And to that, BCBS seems to say, "Why change?"

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