Thursday, November 5, 2009

#168 Hung Up ... on the Cross of Blue

The official heraldry disturbs, of late. Haven't checked with BC&BS on this (though I'm sure that not a single BlogManFan has any doubts as to where this is ultimately going)--but I assume the logo is meant to invoke DaVinci's famed drawing, "Vitruvian Man" (itself a little weird), in a highly stylized and minimalist way. Too minimal. We don't get to see the hands and feet, where the NAILS have been driven in.

Okay, not in DaVinci either. But what follows are a few things that have pointedly waxed me wroth about the Health Insurance giant over the past several weeks--even as Congress, too, continues to be "hung up" on Health-Care Reform legislation. Could have picked any of the Big-Med offenders, I guess, but Blue Cross of North Carolina is so eminently typical, and seems to have such an inordinately large and particularly malign influence over our local TV channels, and apparently over their advertising budget, as well.

Two weeks ago a Blue Cross P.R. flack got some air-time decrying Reform in any form, especially, of course, what he called the "government-run" option. This is news?! A complete simpleton can understand that it would cut into the profits of a profit-driven outfit. But spokesman Bob Greczyn--a handsome, avuncular, very white man, including hair--couched his opposition in familiar user-(un)friendly terms: "Oh yes, the consumers would ultimately suffer. It would cost billions and billions of dollars and raise OUR taxes by over 68% [?], and we'd have to pass that along. Insurance rates would definitely go up."

Two days ago ... what happened? You guessed it. Blue Cross filed for an 11% rate increase with the NC Insurance Commission. I must have missed the news report that Congress had passed the Public Option.

Was Bob Greczyn back on the tube? Nope. The NC State Employees Association, a quasi-union (we're still in the South, after all), got wind of it--along with some other BC&BS under-the-table shenanigans--and made the news. State workers are for the most part insured (read: monopolized) by Blue Cross--in fact, it insures more people overall (70%) than any other company in North Carolina--and they called a news conference to protest.

But here's what really got their goat: they discovered that, at the same time it was asking for a rate increase, Blue Cross was spending money on postcards sent to its vast roster of insurees, urging them to oppose the Public Option. By phoning up their Congresspersons, or some such. Which amounts to increasing rates to subsidize lobbying, or so it seemed. Outrage ensued. In fact, the State Employees Association announced their own web-site in rebuttal (closest they could get to a picket line) called, defiantly, After the rally, a not-at-all-chastened Blue Cross guy was interviewed, and denied everything, saying in the process--get this--"What's happening in Washington is gonna cost 'em a lot more than a few postcards."

He's right about that ... and so very wrong. Postcards are a pittance compared to the exorbitant prodigality of the Big-Med expense account. Has nothing, not now or ever, to do with Washington. As mentioned in an earlier post (DM #120), a non-profit Public Option would save 20-30% right off the top because it would be NON-PROFIT. A tautology, forcryingoutloud. was quick-on-the-page to point out that "the virtual monopoly of Blue Cross of NC earned $186 million in profits for 2008--and paid their CEO nearly $4 million." They might have added that this in no way includes the "overhead" expenses for lobbying, marketing, and advertising--costs that the Feds wouldn't have to worry about at all. I'm reminded again of the quote by the overmuch-wooed Republican Senator Olympia Snowe (now there's a name) when asked why she couldn't support the Public Option: "Well, the Insurance companies might go out of business; they couldn't compete." She was serious.

And finally, speaking of advertising--Blue Cross occupies the most air-time on local channels than any other business. (This is what really got me started.) It's about equal to car dealerships. During the half-hour segments on our 24-hour news channel where the above stories were aired, for example, you might see two or three 2-minute spots for Blue Cross. Over and over. And targeted at the un-insured--"Those of you out there who need to buy your own insurance," the ad goes. Evidently seventy-percent of the insurance business in North Carolina can never be enough. Ironically, one the pitches in the ad is that "together we can help keep health-care costs down." By spending millions on advertising. Bruxism time.

With apologies to William Jennings Bryan, that's not really a blue cross up there: untold millions of Americans are being crucified on a cross of gold.

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