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NC Public Radio – Getting too Cozy with NC Blue Cross?

Driving home yesterday I tuned in to WUNC to hear some of the NPR China coverage and was struck by something else. Referring to health news coverage at WUNC, the station thanked the "Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation for their support of WUNC's health coverage."

I was quite taken aback. Isn't it a huge conflict of interest to have the largest health insurance company in the state sponsoring health coverage on a public news outlet that routinely reaches 250,000 people in North Carolina? Can WUNC faithfully report on the campaign to guarantee 100% of kids in NC access to an affordable health plan if one of their major sponsors on health news coverage has a huge financial interest in the outcome of the debate – and has quietly deep-sixed legislative efforts to expand health coverage to all kids?

What about the excellent coverage WUNC engaged in over the past decade the two times nonprofit NC Blue Cross made extraordinarily controversial moves to become a for-profit company? If NC Blue decides to engage in similar behavior again, will WUNC be too fatally compromised to report on this critical issue?

Finally, I have no doubt Capitol Reporter Laura Leslie will not shy away from telling it like it is about Blue in the General Assembly – as she does here in her blog – or the continued great reporting of Rose Hoban on all issues health, but what about the editors and other powers that be back at the station? Will there be pressure to change what stories are reported on in the future if they involve Blue?

I just don't see how the answer to the above questions can now be anything other than a disappointing "yes."

And, before I get jumped all over, here are two points to keep in mind. First, while businesses and some nonprofits often generally sponsor the work of the station and get taglines that help their name recognition, they are rarely – if ever – identified as sponsoring news coverage of their own business area. Imagine the outcry if WUNC was thanking "NC's poultry industry for sponsoring our coverage of working conditions at NC chicken plants."

Second, don't give me any guff that the NC Blue Cross Foundation isn't wholly controlled as an unofficial PR subsidiary of NC Blue Cross itself, despite any pretensions of independence. Blue CEO Bob Greczyn is also Chair of the foundation board and the board is unabashedly Blue:

Our Board of Directors is comprised of executive-level employees within Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, in addition to one medical community representative who also serves on the BCBSNC corporate Board of Trustees. Bob Greczyn, President and Chief Executive Officer of BCBSNC, serves as our Chairman.

WUNC should reject NC Blue's donations for health coverage as fatally compromising their ability to fairly and accurately report on an increasingly critical issue for most North Carolinians – the quality and affordability of healthcare.

5 Comments


  1. Louie

    May 15, 2008 at 6:18 pm

    dont forget Brad Wilson, Blue Cross lawyer in charge of “21st Century Transportation Reform” LOL

  2. evelin

    May 16, 2008 at 2:22 pm

    Thanks, Adam – for pointing this out. This astute vigilance will become even more important as the election nears and the health care reform battles sharpen.

  3. Marsha V. Hammond, PhD

    May 16, 2008 at 2:26 pm

    Madame Defarge II : Scrutinizing BCBSNC

    Friday, May 16, 2008

    Is NC losing its critical coverage of BCBSNC by its NPR stations supported by BCBSNC Foundation? : Mr. Nesbitt don’t make me spill my machiato

    Marsha V. Hammond, PhD : Clinical Licensed Psychologist, Asheville, NC
    cell phone: 404 964 5338 e mail: hammondmv@netzero.com

    BCBSNC blogspot:http://madamedefarge2scutinizingbcbsnc.blogspot.com/

    May 16, 2008
    RE: lack of screening colonoscopies in NC

    Dear WUNC radio, Laura Leslie of WUNC (hunters.tavern@gmail.com ), and its affiliates; other NPR stations in NC; and WCQS, NPR station in Asheville, NC (info@wcqs.org):

    Thank you for covering news about BCBSNC over the years.

    Adam Searing of NCJustice (adam@ncjustice.org) tipped me off to Laura Leslie and WUNC coverage, over the years, of BCBSNC.

    Dear WUNC radio, Laura Leslie of WUNC, and its affiliates, covering news about BCBSNC:
    Adam Searing of NCJustice tipped me off to Laura Leslie and WUNC coverage, over the years, of BCBSNC.

    I would like to alert you to a very problematic matter associated with BCBSNC at this time. This has been going on for some time. For me personally, I have been seeking a gastroenterologist in western NC to simply do a screening colonoscopy, something that is recommended by American Cancer Society and experts throughout the US.

    Colon cancer is the 3rd leading cause of cancer deaths in the US.

    I have BCBSNC PPO plan as associated w/ myself, my husband, and our 13 yr old son. We pay over $600/ month for what I thought was a good plan.

    I have been trying to obtain this procedure for almost 8 months now. Please see the details in Item 3 below as associated with my post at my BCBSNC blogspot.

    Over 7 months ago, upon recognizing the problem of no available screening colonoscopies in western NC, I contacted the CEO, Mr. Bob Greczyn, who sent me back a letter which indicated, essentially, that BCBSNC was not in control of having extremely limited numbers of gastroenterologists to do screening colonoscopies.

    I believe that the problem may in fact be endemic and even epidemic, across NC.

    I maintain that the problem is that few gastroenterologists want to do office based screening colonoscopies because they do not want to traumatize their patients. Clinic based colonoscopies avail patients of the use of IV anesthetics e.g., Versed, which eases pain and facilitates the procedure.

    The cost, out of pocket, is over $1200.00 for a screening colonoscopies. If biopsies have to be taken or polyps have to be removed, there are additional costs.

    I hope you can use this information to follow-up on this matter.

    I have contacted everyone I know to contact re: this matter, including the Government Affairs supervisor, Nell Boone, at BCBSNC, as well as all the members of the Health Committee of the NC State Legislature. I have heard nothing from any state legislator. I know this is the short session of the state legislature and so I am feeling some pressure to get this resolved—-and in the direction of BCBSNC creating relationships w/ gastroenterologists to do this procedure in western NC.

    I contacted a string of supervisors at BCBSNC a couple of months ago and got nowhere. I am now ‘on hold’ vis a vis Nell Boone as ‘someone is investigating the matter.’

    Someone investigated the matter months ago and the only answer that came back is that there were screening colonoscopies in Charlotte and Boone, NC, several hours from my family in Asheville, NC—-not exactly an unpopulated city.

    Moreover, from what I see online re: the Insurance Committee of the NC State Legislature, there is no point in me contacting them as they appear to be in the pocket of BCBSNC.

    Thank you for your coverage of this public health issue.

    Marsha V. Hammond, PhD

  4. Marsha V. Hammond, PhD

    May 16, 2008 at 2:29 pm

    Photo of Martin Nesbitt,Jr ‘s BCBS Advanta NASCAR carrying mega-rig

    (Martin Nesbitt, Sr, D-Buncombe; co-chair of the NC mental health reform legislative oversite committee)

    (I like Mr. Nesbitt but I dislike how BCBSNC is managing health insurance in NC more than that).

    http://www.martnesbitt.com/photo%20truck.jpg

    Monday, May 14, 2007
    http://madame-defarge.blogspot.com/2007_05_01_archive.html

    save our Senator Nesbitt:the ballad of Nesbitt Jr.’s BCBS ADVANTA race car :PLEASE DON’T MAKE ME SPILL MY MACHIATO w/the clock runnning out

  5. Marsha V. Hammond, PhD

    May 17, 2008 at 4:28 pm

    Madame Defarge II : Scrutinizing BCBSNC

    Saturday, May 17, 2008
    5 weeks to hammer on BCBSNC via ‘short session’ NC State Legislature re: no screening colonoscopies in western NC

    Marsha V. Hammond, PhD, Clinical Licensed Psychologist
    e mail: hammondmv@netzero.com cell: 404 964 5338

    Public Health blogspots associated w/ Dr. Hammond

    NC mental health reform blogspot: http://madame-defarge.blogspot.com/

    Scrutinizing Blue Cross/ Blue Shield North Carolina (BCBSNC) blogspot: http://madamedefarge2scutinizingbcbsnc.blogspot.com/

    May 17,2008

    Dear Nell Boone (nell.boone@bcbsnc.com) , Government Affairs, BCBSNC, Supervisor:

    Thank you, Ms. Boone, for calling me this past Thursday, May 15, 2008, as associated with my persistent querying regarding the lack of screening colonoscopies in western NC.

    As you know, I have been investigating this and getting nothing but run around by BCBSNC, since September, 2007.

    In that you came up with no solution, but apparently have passed the buck to someone else, I am speculating that BCBSNC is going to continue to try and avoid their lack of coverage for colon cancer screening, the 3rd leading cause of cancer deaths in the US.

    You stated, as per the phone message you left me, that ‘someone’ from Customer Satisfaction and BCBSNC Network, would be in touch w/ me ‘soon.’ You stated that you would be calling my NC House Representative, Susan Fisher, whom I notified about the lack of screening colonoscopies for BCBSNC consumers.

    I am letting Susan Fisher know by this e mail that yes, indeed, BCBSNC is continuing to avoid addressing this critical public health issue.

    In that the NC State Legislature will meet for only 5 more weeks, I am asking that someone from BCBSNC contact me by May 20, 2008. If I do not hear something positive about the creation of screening colonoscopies for citizens of western NC who have BCBSNC family plans—-for which they pay premium $$—-I will then escalate my activism.

    BCBSNC continues to be under scrutiny by NC citizens who care about public health matters.
    Moreover, BCBSNC’s so far actions indicate a distinct attempt to avoid providing screening for colon cancer.

    This cannot possibly be good public relations for a company that continues to attempt to get out from under the thumb of the state legislature.

    However, I guess that BCBSNC simply cannot manage its company in a way that would suggest that this would be a good idea. Thus, I’m stuck to this issue like glue.

    I’ll be the first to herald your forward thinking when you create screening colonoscopies for western NC citizens paying over $600/ month for BCBSNC PPO health insurance.

    My husband and I cannot afford $2500 for the two screening colonoscopies.

    This does not even take into account if there were biopsies or other procedures which are not uncommon as associated with this important preventive care.

    Thank you for passing this on to pertinent parties.

    Sincerely,
    Marsha V. Hammond, PhD

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