October 28, 2009


NC insurer says timing of mailings unfortunate

Wednesday, October 28, 2009
The News&Observer of Raleigh, N.C. —

Even Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina acknowledges that its timing on two recent mailings was unfortunate.

Customers first learned their rates will rise by an average of 11 percent next year. Then they got a flier urging them to send an enclosed preprinted, postage-paid note to Sen. Kay Hagan denouncing what the company says is unfair competition that would be imposed by a government-backed insurance plan. Congress is likely to consider that public option as it debates the health care overhaul.

"No matter what you call it, if the federal government intervenes in the private health insurance market, it's a slippery slope to a single-payer system," the BCBS flier read. "Who wants that?"

Indignant Blue Cross customers, complaining that their premium dollars are funding the campaign, have called Hagan's office to voice support for a public option. They've marked through the Blue Cross message on their postcards and changed it to show they support the public option, then mailed the cards.

"I hope it backfires," said Mark Barroso, a documentary film maker in Chatham County who is a Blue Cross customer and recipient of the mailings. "I'm doing everything I can to make sure it does."

Beth Silberman of Durham said she "went sort of bonkers" about the mailing. "You're hostage to them, and then they pull this," she said. "My new premiums are funding lobbying against competition. It's pretty disgusting."

A sample of the postcards being sent to Senator Hagan's compliments of BCBS paid postage

A spokesman in Hagan's office, David Hoffman, said the postcards have not yet begun arriving in the senator's office because of the mail screening process, but he said lots of people have called, angry about the insurer's tactics.

Blue Cross spokesman Lew Borman said the mailing relied on voter registration records, not a customer list. Since the company controls more than half of the state's health insurance market, the names on the lists overlapped. He declined to reveal how much money the insurer paid for the mailing. He acknowledged the timing was unfortunate but said it was coincidental since one mailing was tied to current events in Washington and the other to when the insurer typically sends its annual notices about rate increases.

"We said from the beginning we were going to be involved and would tell North Carolinians what kind of impact the health care proposals would have, and that's what we've been doing," Borman said.

Yep, and you're doing such a wonderful job of it too...