Michael R. Lee, a lawyer whose firm has offices throughout North Carolina sent us the following take today on the conservative General Assembly’s current war on injured workers and consumers:

The NCGOP opened the current legislative session with a blitzkrieg assault on the civil rights of North Carolinians. High on its list of legislative priorities was so-called tort “reform” and workers’ compensation “reform.” The tort reform the NCGOP, supported by the NC Chamber of Commerce, big business and the insurance industry, is pushing is contained in House Bill 542 and Senate Bill 33.

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There are those defining issues raised in the General Assembly every so often that pit the state’s most powerful interest groups against the needs of consumers and average citizens. The vote on today’s health benefits exchange is one such issue.

Health reform requires that North Carolina establish a health exchange, although we do not need to pass legislation this session. Blue Cross and Blue Shield was quick to pounce, getting their friends in the General Assembly to sponsor a bill crafted by the company’s attorneys.

This legislation stacks the board governing the exchange with interests that either opposed health reform or are seeking to repeal the Affordable Care Act. This bill puts those groups in charge of implementing reform in the state. This bill strips the exchange of any ability to adapt to changing market conditions. It takes away all ability to provide value to consumers. It is, in short, an insult.

This has nothing to do with political party and everything to do with access.

Consumer groups have pleaded with legislators — Democrat and Republican — not to blatently harm their constituents at the behest of these interest groups. It is astounding how hard you have to work to convince even a small clutch of lawmakers to vote the interests of average people. We don’t enjoy access and we don’t host lavish fundraisers.

All we have on our side are justice, determination, long memories, and a lot of people. After all, every consumer group in the state, and this is a remarkable thing, every consumer group in the state opposes this exchange bill. Every editorial has opposed this bill. Every poll shows broad opposition to this bill.

We haven’t heard anything on the exchange from the Governor’s office. After a brief stab at compromise, Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin also has been mum on the issue of the health exchange. His office has said it won’t oppose anything the General Assembly cooks up.

So, here we are. A radically anti-consumer exchange bill will likely pass the House today. The only thing standing between you and a health care system dominated by insurance companies in perpetuity is the Senate and the Governor and the resistance of the people.


The Obama administration’s new health care reform law has Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina looking to cuts it’s costs by 20% over the next four years.

The News & Observer reports that Blue Cross expects to carve about $200 million from its annual $1 billion budget by 2014 by eliminating open positions, cutting jobs through attrition, offering early retirement, and streamlining operations.

“Over time, Blue Cross will be a smaller company,” CEO Brad Wilson said in an interview. “It’s all about change. We’re focused on how we need to change to meet the needs of North Carolina.”

As it tightens its belt, Blue Cross also will work with hospitals and other providers to reduce surging medical costs. That will include some “tough negotiations” with hospital systems and others across the state, Wilson noted.

You may recall back in May the nonprofit insurer began testing a plan to outsource some of its IT work to India.

Blue Cross Blue Shield is the state’s largest insurer with 3.7 million consumers in North Carolina.


Want to know what may be a bigger cancer killer than smoking? Being uninsured. That’s right. Here’s what the American Cancer Society’s chief executive, John Seffrin, had to say about being uninsured:

I believe, if we don’t fix the health care system, that lack of access will be a bigger cancer killer than tobacco. The ultimate control of cancer is as much a policy issue as it is a medical and scientific issue.

In an unprecedented move, the American Cancer Society is spending all of it’s 15 million dollar advertising budget on the problem of inadequate health coverage. Go here to read about it. This decision was based on research which showed that uninsured patients with cancers of the breast, larynx, and mouth had their cancers diagnosed at a much more advanced stage. Obviously, this leads to more expensive and less effective treatment. These patients not only die early, but frequently they die broke. One in four families afflicted by cancer spends most or all of their savings battling the disease. 560,000 Americans will die of cancer this year.

Listen, politicians can dither all they want to on health care. But any politician who doesn’t make universal health coverage part of their plan needs to be reminded that they are sacrificing American lives in the process. And this wouldn’t be the Progressive Pulse if I didn’t remind readers that none of the Republican candidates for president have a plan for significantly reducing the number of uninsured Americans. How’s that for family values.


A new report “Buddy Can You Spare a Dime” produced by the NC Budget & Tax Center demonstrates, biteyet again, how shortsighted tax breaks hurt us in the long run. This time the damage is to our unemployment insurance (UI) system.

Unemployment benefits are paid from a trust fund, which is financed by employer payroll taxes. The idea is that during good economic times the trust fund balance grows so that there are adequate funds available to pay benefits during economic downturns. In the early 1990’s the trust fund balance seemed large, so state leaders revised the policies and reduced the taxes that employers were required to pay. According to the report, “the General Assembly enacted a series of 13 payroll tax changes between 1992 and 2000.” Some companies saw their payroll taxes reduced to zero. These actions coupled with a decrease in federal funding have undermined the solvency of the UI trust fund.

The unemployment insurance system is an important safety net for individuals and an economic stimulus for the state’s economy. It is important that the General Assembly acts now so the solvency problems can be fixed.