NC Insurance Commissioner pans Blue Cross restructuring proposal. The main sponsor says he’s working on changes.

The lead House sponsor of a bill that would exempt Blue Cross Blue Shield NC from some insurance regulations told a House committee the company needed the changes to compete with for-profit companies, even as state Insurance Commissioner Michael Causey continued to denounce the proposal.

Rep. John Bradford, R-Mecklenburg

Rep. John Bradford, a Mecklenburg County Republican, said he is working on a revised version of the bill that would address Causey’s concerns. 

Blue Cross is the state’s dominant health insurance company. The non-profit wants to create a holding company for itself into which it could transfer assets, property, liabilities, and ownership interests in subsidiaries. The new holding company would be exempt from some insurance laws. Bradford said the changes would make Blue Cross more nimble. 

“Health care has changed, health care is changing,” he said. “Under today’s corporate structure, they can’t move fast. In the world of business, you have to be able to move fast when it comes to opportunities.”

The House Health Committee discussed the bill Tuesday, but did not vote on it. 

Though no votes have been taken on House bill 346, nearly half of the members of the state House have signed on as sponsors or cosponsors. Thirty of 50 state senators have signed on to the Senate version

Causey told the House committee that the bill was not acceptable and noted that, even with competition, Blue Cross NC dominates the state’s health insurance market. 

NC Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey

Blue Cross NC has 82.8% of the individual health insurance plan market, 79.6% of the group comprehensive insurance market, and 86.8% of the Medicare supplemental insurance market, Causey said.

“I know a lot of you have signed on to this bill and think it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. But I’m here to tell you that this is not a good bill in its current form and it’s my job to protect the consumers.”

Blue Cross isn’t like a for-profit company that’s investing with stockholder money, he said, because Blue Cross is seeking to invest using North Carolina policyholders’ money.

Blue Cross says it needs the changes because existing law limits how it can invest in other companies, Causey said. 

Causey said that since he’s been in office, the state insurance department has had a good working relationship with the company. When Blue Cross asked for something, the department “bent over backwards to get them what they needed.”

Blue Cross NC recently lost a lucrative contract to administer the State Employee Health Plan to Aetna. The company is suing to try to get the job back. 

Darcie Dearth, a Blue Cross spokeswoman, said after the committee meeting that the company’s restructuring request has nothing to do with losing that third-party administrator contract. 

Critics have said that the restructuring would allow Blue Cross to skirt a 1998 law that says if the company ever converted to a for-profit, it would transfer 100% of its fair market value to a foundation created to “promote the health of the people of North Carolina.” A section of the bill says that the holding company would not be subject to the part of the 25-year-old law that would establish the foundation.

Dearth said Blue Cross does not intend to become a for-profit company. The bill includes guardrails that specify that if it does, the foundation would be funded using the fair market value of the nonprofit holding corporation.

“It’s an important backstop that accounts for value of the entire system, not just the insurance company,” she said in an email.

House committee Ok’s bill to increase penalties for educators, other school personnel who engage in sexual misconduct with students

A bill that targets teachers and other school personnel who engage in sex or sex acts with students continues to make its way through the House.

On Tuesday, House Bill 142, titled “Protect Our Students Act” received a favorable hearing from the House Rules, Calendar and Operations Committee.

If HB 142 becomes law, school personnel who engage in sex with students could be charged with a class G felony, which carries a maximum sentence of 47 months in prison.

Taking indecent liberties with a student is currently a Class I felony in North Carolina, which is punishable for up to 24 months in prison.

Teachers and other school personnel could also be charged for engaging in sexual activity with recent high school graduates up to six months after the former student finishes school.

“It addresses grooming where, unfortunately, someone that is out to do bad will purposefully engage in a student in the attempt to get them groomed to the point that when they exit the school, then a relationship could begin,” said State Rep. John Torbett, a Gaston County Republican and bill sponsor.

School leaders who fail to report misconduct to the State Board of Education could be charged with a class I felony. Educators also risk losing pensions for engaging in sexual misconduct with students.

Torbett noted that HB 142 originated in the N.C. Department of Public Instruction after State Superintendent Catherine Truitt found gaps in the educator license revocation process.

Truitt told lawmakers last month that there have been 124 cases of sexual misconduct since 2016 involving students that led to a license revocation, suspension or surrender.

Torbett said there are likely more incidents than the 20 or so reported each year because reports only include the misconduct of licensed education professionals.

“Therefore, if someone employed by schools such as bus driver, coach or teacher’s assistant who wouldn’t have a teaching license commits one of these offenses, they wouldn’t be reflected in these 20 a year number,” Torbett said.

HB 142 would require schools to show students in grades 6-12 videos that explain the warning signs of abuse or neglect. Students would also received instruction in how to confidentially report such incidents.

Infant formula crisis could recur, former FDA official tells Congress

News and commentary from Tennessee in the wake of Monday’s school shooting

A day after a mass shooting at The Covenant School, a woman is overcome with emotion in front of an impromptu memorial. (Photo: John Partipilo)

[Editor’s note: In the wake of yesterday’s tragedy in Nashville, Tennessee, we are publishing the following news update and commentary from our sibling States Newsroom outlet, the Tennessee Lookout.] 

Updates on Nashville school shooting: police investigation continues as city mourns

By the Tennessee Lookout staff

A day after an armed shooter stalked the hallways of The Covenant School in Nashville, killing three children and three adults, the law enforcement investigation continues.

Among the victims were three nine-year-old children: Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs, and William Kinney. The adults were Cynthia Peak, 61, a substitute teacher; Mike Hill, age 61, a custodian; and Covenant Head of Schools Katherine Koonce, 60.

The shooter was identified as a former student Audrey Elizabeth Hale, 28, killed by two Metro Nashville Police Officers who responded to the scene. Hale was armed with at least two assault rifles and a handgun, police said.

People gathered Monday night in vigils across the city to mourn the tragic losses; President Joe Biden ordered U.S. flags at half staff until sunset on Friday and the Metro Nashville Police Department began releasing new details of the events last Monday. There are more public gatherings planned for today. The Legislature reconvenes and law enforcement are expected release further details.

Monday marks Nashville’s third mass shooting in six years

The violence wrought Monday inside an elementary school is Nashville’s third mass shooting in six years.

In 2018, four people were killed when an armed gunman entered a south Nashville Waffle House restaurant in the early hours of a Sunday morning.

The victims were Joe Perez Jr., Taurean Sanderlin, Akilah Dasilva and DeEbony Groves.

Travis Reinking, the shooter, was sentenced to life in prison for the murders last year.

In 2017, an armed gunman opened fire at the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Nashville, killing one person and injuring six others who had gathered their for Sunday services.

The shooter, Emanuel Kidega Samson, was sentenced to life in prison in 2019.

On Monday, the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ posted a message of sorrow on Facebook.

Police release surveillance video

Police on Monday night released a portion of school surveillance video showing Hale driving a Honda Fit through the school’s parking, past a playground of children on swing sets, before parking, shooting down a double door into the schools and roaming empty hallways.

Police reported that Hall fired through a window at arriving police officers. Two members of an officer team fired on Hale in a second floor common area. Those officers were identified as Officer Rex Englebert, a 4-year Metro Nashville Police Department veteran, and Officer Michael Collazo, a 9-year-veteran.

Police said they have also found writings from Hale, including a manifesto and detailed maps of the building housing the school, in searches of a home and car connected to Hale.

‘Our community is heartbroken’

Late Monday, the school also released a statement expressing heartbreak and asking for privacy.

Report: Shooter texted friend shortly before shooting

Channel 5 also reported late on Monday that the shooter had texted a former basketball teammate in the minutes before the shooting.


Commentary: A grim theory on how we get gun safety laws 

by Mark Harmon 

Nashville-based writers on this site already have written movingly about the tragic gun crime at Covenant School, yet another school shooting — this one took the lives of three children and three adults.

Let me add this perspective from only a modest distance away, my adopted home of Knoxville is less than a 3-hour drive east of Nashville.

You see, I am a survivor of a hate crime involving blasts of gunfire. Read more

Report: 1 in 4 prospective college students ruling out some states due to political climate

The impact of politics on colleges and universities across the country isn’t just making headlines. It’s also driving prospective colleges students away from certain states, a new study released Monday suggests.

One in four high school seniors reported they ruled out certain campuses based on the politics, policies or unfolding legal situations in certain states, according to polling from the Art & Science Group, a consulting firm specializing in higher education.

The findings held true across the political spectrum, with self-identified liberal students (31 percent), conservative students (28 percent) and moderates (22 percent) all reporting they avoided certain states.

“Possibly the most interesting subgroup difference is the lack of a difference,” the report on the study reads. “In our research, students who identify as conservatives are about as likely to reject an institution on politically charged grounds overall as are students who classify themselves as liberals. Indeed, for those intent on generationally derived behavioral explanations, our study suggests that ‘snowflake’ students may exist on both the conservative and liberal sides of the aisle, with the phenomenon of ruling out an institution being cited by around 30% of both liberals and conservatives.”

The study’s authors note that their polling was fielded this winter, before the biggest political conflicts in higher education erupted in Florida, Texas and Ohio.

The states most likely to be ruled out by students: Alabama (38 percent), Texas (29 percent), Louisiana and Florida (both 21 percent).

Students who identified as liberal-leaning said they were more likely to rule out schools in the South or Midwest while conservative-leaning students said they were more likely to rule out New York and California. Read more