Uncategorized

An open letter to WUNC Public Radio concerning its relationship with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina

As health advocates we are concerned about the increasingly close ties between WUNC Public Radio and the state’s largest insurer.

We have written previously about the problems with the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation’s sponsorship of WUNC’s health care reporting. Last year the BCBSNC Foundation gave WUNC $113,624 to build the station’s health news capacity. In our opinion, that is a problem.

We would be equally distressed if the North Carolina Democratic Party sponsored WUNC’s political coverage or the North Carolina Chamber sponsored the station’s business news.

This year the BCBSNC Foundation released its first ever annual report featuring audio stories about the Foundation’s grantees. The back cover of the report says “Stories produced in association with WUNC.” The WUNC logo is inside the report and on the back cover.

It is disturbing enough that the state’s flagship public radio station would accept BCBSNC money for its health reporting. But one of the state’s leading news organizations helping a large insurance company produce its annual report is unacceptable.

Managers at WUNC may contend that there is a difference between BCBSNC as a company and the BCBSNC Foundation. There is not. The board of the BCBSNC Foundation is controlled by Robert Greczyn, Daniel Glaser, J. Bradley Wilson, John Roos, Maureen O’Connor, and Steve Cherrier – all top executives at the insurance company. It is our belief that the Foundation is, in effect, a public relations arm of BCBSNC. The company uses the Foundation’s money for strategic purposes. For example, it attempts to purchase favorable news coverage by contributing to WUNC.

We have had a long relationship with many of the reporters and producers at WUNC. We are not questioning the integrity of these fine journalists. But as an organization, WUNC’s cooperation with BCBSNC raises serious questions about the station’s independence. The BCBSNC Foundation is not spending its money in the best possible way to help the more than 1.5 million uninsured residents of the state. It is doubtful, given its funding source, that WUNC would aggressively cover such a story.

To help ensure that WUNC is owned by the people and not BCBSNC we ask that you sever ties with the insurance company. BCBSNC often works against the best interests of average North Carolinians. WUNC should have no part in bolstering the insurer’s public image. We also ask that you no longer accept money from the BCBSNC Foundation – especially when the funds are used specifically for health reporting. And we ask that WUNC not provide technical support to BCBSNC or its foundation.

We care deeply about the independence and integrity of WUNC. We hope that we can work with the station in the future to highlight the plight of those North Carolina families who struggle every day to find affordable health care.

Sincerely,

Adam Searing
Adam Linker

8 Comments

  1. Carly Dawn Kickslaw

    December 8, 2008 at 7:48 pm

    This is very concerning indeed. I am intrigued by your comment that BCBSNC “often works against the best interests of average North Carolinians.” Does anyone have recommendations of better vendors from which to purchase private health care insurance in NC? I’d be interested in this also. Thank you.

  2. Kimberly

    December 9, 2008 at 6:49 am

    I completely agree with you. You can add my name to whatever sign on sheet or petition for this letter. It is definately a conflict of interest. Thank you for writing this up and sharing it.

  3. [...] more here. Posted by Chris Roush [...]

  4. Adam Searing

    December 9, 2008 at 9:20 am

    As to the first question, NC Blue Cross has over 80% of the market for individual health insurance in NC – so there are few other options for someone who isn’t getting their insurance through their work.

    Kimberly – we haven’t set up a petition yet regarding this issue, but your question makes me think we should.

  5. Marsha V. Hammond, PhD

    December 11, 2008 at 2:07 am

    I HAVE NO RESPONSE FROM REP FISHER’S OFFICE RE: THIS IMPORTANT MATTER WHICH I HAVE BEEN INVESTIGATING FOR OVER A YEAR.

    hammondmv@netzero.com

    Monday, November 24, 2008
    Dear Rep Fisher: Insurance Commissioner’s office cannot get past lies of BCBSNC PPO re: non-availability of colonoscopies in western NC

    Letter to Representative Susan Fisher: Fisherla@ncleg.net

    Marsha V. Hammond, PhD: Clinical Licensed Psychologist, Asheville/ Waynesville, NC

    e mail: hammondmv@netzero.com cell: 404 964 5338

    RE: NC Department of INsurance cannot see past the song & dance of BCBSNC re: screening colonoscopies

    November 24, 2008

    Dear Susan Fisher, my NC House of Representatives person:

    There are still no screening colonoscopies for citizens of western NC w/ BCBSNC insurance plans….2.5 million of us across the state. Most lately, the NC Department of Insurance has fallen for their song and dance which seems to be associated with coverage, but in fact, is not.

    To make it all the more hilarious, BCBSNC just sent me a letter suggesting that I have a screening colonoscopy!

    I talked to the insurance commissioner’s office, specifically, Doris Edwine, tel 919 807 6773. I wrote her a letter.

    BCBSNC simply sent her a list of the gastroenterologists in Buncombe county. As I have done before, I called them. They told me what they have told me before, namely that their practices will not do office based screening colonoscopies. They do only clinic based screening colonoscopies…like they told me a year ago.

    I have been researching this for a year now (please see the blog which does not reflect the six months prior to the first post in June, 2008). Nothing has changed. I would like to know what the NC State Legislature which oversees BCBSNC is going to do about this.

    BCBSNC PPO will not pay for clinic based screening colonoscopies and the gastroenterologists will not do the office based ones, I assume, as associated w/ the risk of having a patient move around on the table and then puncturing their colon which means that —literally—-you better have created your will cause you’re a dead person.

    My file number: 2008-10-01135.

    It would be useful to have my NC State Representative check on this matter, I believe.

    Thank you.

    Marsha V. Hammond, PhD
    Posted by Marsha V. Hammond, PhD

  6. Evelin Brinich

    December 18, 2008 at 9:40 am

    I am not sure when this relationship with BCBS Foundation/WUNCTV began but it seemed that there were a number of “medical programs” earlier this year that seemed more like infomercials than carefully weighed, research-based medical reports. The frequent BCBS Logo and advertisements are also very annoying. Perhaps the idea of a petition should be revisited.

  7. Ann T. bErry

    December 18, 2008 at 1:08 pm

    Adam, I absolutely think a petition is needed. So are hard-copy letters to WUNC Radio from people who, like me and thousands more, are steady contributors year after year to the station.

    I don’t care how loudly and long the station’s managers protest that they’re ethically pure. There’s no way they can expect the public to trust WUNC’s health-care reporting as long as they accept major funding from the firm (and BCBS-NC is a firm, make no mistake, despite the “not for profit” smokescreen and the foundation fronting) whose dog is always the biggest in any North Carolina health-care fight.

    And public radio has absolutely NO business helping BCBSNC or its foundation–or any other business entity, for that matter– write annual reports or any publications or messages.

    This whole probem is rooted in the sham of not-for-profit status, which for decades has let BCBSNC play both sides of the street, giving them a political teflon skin that repels all manner of needed correctives.

    The plain truth is, no entity that pays its chieftains as much as Bob Greczyn gets (brainwashed, I’d started to write “earns”, but to earn his millions implies a level of work and effort far beyond the capacity of a mere human) deserves the benefits and perks of being not-for-profit. It’s as simple as that.

  8. [...] became heavily involved underwriting health coverage at a public news organization last year we raised serious questions about the conflicts of interest inherent in such a relationship. Well, this year it looks like NC [...]