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Former Blue Cross NC CEO to state regulator: ‘Don’t make a public statement’ on arrest

Just days before the CEO of North Carolina’s largest health insurer resigned, emails show he tried to keep a state official from speaking publicly about the resignation.

Conway, the CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, was charged on June 22 with driving while impaired and misdemeanor child abuse after wrecking his SUV with his children in the car. In weeks afterward, Conway completed 30 days of rehab and was deemed fit to continue leading Blue Cross NC by its Board of Trustees.

Nearly three months had passed by the time NC Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey emailed Blue Cross NC leaders about Conway’s arrest. Causey said he learned details from news reports.

Conway asked Causey for his discretion, according to emails obtained by The News & Observer and first reported by the Triangle Business Journal.

“Commissioner, thank you for the letter and call,” Conway told Causey in a Sept. 20 email. “We would appreciate if you don’t make a public statement. I will be transparent with you throughout this process. I appreciate our good working relationship. Thank you.”

It didn’t work. About an hour after receiving Conway’s email, Causey publicly called on Blue Cross NC to find a temporary replacement CEO until Conway’s criminal charges were resolved.

Email records show regulators based in the western states of Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Utah were in regular correspondence with Causey. The four western states said they would discuss the “mess” created by the Blue Cross NC situation at a planned retreat this week.

Causey also received encouragement from state Rep. Donny Lambeth, a Republican from Winston-Salem and former hospital CEO.

“I applaud you for your actions on the BCBS CEO situation. He needs to resign. How disgusting and don’t tell me he is a good leader when he is DUI with small kids in the car,” Lambeth said in a Sept. 24 email. “If I was on the Board I would demand his resignation. NC state health plan should immediately send notice of cancelation until he resigns.”

The events that followed over the next week would lead to Conway’s resignation and halt a months-long merger effort between Blue Cross NC and Cambia, an Oregon-based health company.

Timeline

On Sept. 24, video of Conway’s wreck and details of his arrest surfaced in the media. Notes from the arresting police officer were first published by WRAL.

The officer’s report quotes Conway saying: “’You had a choice. You could have let me go. You don’t know who I am. I am a doctor, a CO of a company. I’ll call Governor Cooper and get you in trouble.’” Later the same day, Blue Cross NC and Cambia suspended their merger.

On Sept. 25, Causey called on Conway to resign. And later that night, he did.

In a statement that night, Conway struck a conciliatory tone. He noted his sobriety and personal growth, and added, “I also understand that I must continue to work hard to earn back the trust I’ve lost based on my actions.”

But on Sept. 26, the former CEO took to social media to express frustration.

“Unfortunately, I have been ‘tried and convicted’ in the media. Including much information that I had never seen before Tuesday (2 days ago). Some true, some not true, and some misinformation,” Conway tweeted, adding, “Anyone seeking substance use treatment & recovery should be celebrated. Not judged and punished.”

The N&O doesn’t know what Conway meant by “misinformation.” Neither his spokesman, Eric Koch, nor his attorney, Thomas Walker, elaborated on the tweets Friday afternoon.

Severance package?

Walker said Conway had “no comment at this time” about whether Conway received a severance package upon his resignation. Barry Smith, a spokesman for the N.C. Department of Insurance, said they have no information regarding severance details between Blue Cross NC and Conway.

“[They’re] not required by law or regulation to report a compensation or severance package to the partners in insurance,” Smith said.

Private companies and their trustees, he says, don’t have to make this information readily available.

However, in a Supplemental Compensation Exhibit, an annual report that the insurance company has to file, salaries and compensation amounts for company officers are detailed. This includes severance payments, pointing to the likelihood that this information won’t be public until the start of 2020.

The report from 2018 indicates that Conway received a total of $3,595,492 in salary, bonuses, and other compensation.

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