The year was 1994 and President Clinton’s plan to reform health care was being hotly debated. NC Blue Cross was right in the midst of it as usual when then-CEO Ken Otis penned an editorial for the Durham Herald-Sun laying out Blue’s position. It boiled down to three main points:
1. Blue Cross really does support major health reform – medical costs are “rising too rapidly” and coverage shouldn’t be “denied or delayed due to a pre-existing health problem.”
2. Scary “Government-mandated initiatives” in health reform are really, really bad and shouldn’t happen.
3. Trust us to do reform right – with HMOs and managed care! “Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina sees managed care as a better way to deal with the issues of cost and affordability, as well as quality.”
Well, we know how this story ended. NC Blue Cross helped deep-six the 1994 health reform effort and instituted widespread managed care plans. Instead of containing costs, the plans merely angered patients and providers who were less than excited about Blue dictating specific health care services. Costs continued to skyrocket, with premiums for health insurance more than doubling since 1994. Nonprofit Blue Cross, awash in hundreds of millions in profits over the years, attempted twice to become a for-profit company in 1997 and 2003, failing both times when legislators and regulators made clear top executives would not see gigantic bonuses and payouts from such a change.
Now in 2009, NC Blue Cross is banging the same old drum. Blue supposedly really does support health reform. Only not that government public option or other pesky regulations. And just trust Blue to do reform right and cut costs. Hopefully we won’t be so naïve this time around. We’ll find out.