Senate gives final approval to Blue Cross NC bill the insurance commissioner says is bad for policyholders

By: - May 30, 2023 6:00 pm

Republican Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey

The state Senate on Tuesday approved a bill allowing nonprofit Blue Cross NC to act more like a for-profit insurance company over the objections of the state Insurance Commissioner and despite an 11th-hour appeal from the state Treasurer to slow the action. 

Blue Cross Blue Shield NC, the state’s dominant health insurer, will be able to set up a holding company for its assets. The holding company would be able to buy businesses without oversight from state regulators. 

The move had bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. The Senate approved the bill 41-5 on Tuesday with little debate.  The House approved the bill 86-26 last month. It now goes to Gov. Roy Cooper for his signature. 

Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey has been an outspoken opponent of the bill. He has denounced it in committee meetings and at a press conference, warning that health insurance premiums will rise. The company would be able to shift its assets to the holding company to avoid returning money to policyholders in the form of lower premiums, he has said.  

Blue Cross NC has 80% of the individual and group comprehensive health insurance markets, Causey said at his news conference. Blue Cross NC spokeswoman Sara Lang said in an email Wednesday that the information on company’s market share is outdated. 

Sen. Tim Johnson, a Union County Republican, presented the bill to the Senate on Tuesday. 

The bill is a business restructuring, he said, and has nothing to do with insurance policies or premiums. 

Concessions have given Causey “90% of what he wanted,” Johnson said. “If we went much further, it would be more restrictive than what the current law has.”

A few hours before the vote, state Treasurer Dale Folwell urged the Senate to pause to consider amendments Causey wanted. 

Blue Cross lost a lucrative contract as third-party administrator for the state employee health plan. Folwell’s office overseas health plan administration. Folwell, a Republican, criticized Blue Cross for appealing the decision awarding the health plan contract to Aetna. 

In the press release Tuesday, Folwell said protection of insurance customers is a pressing issue. 

Causey said in a statement released after the vote that he was disappointed with the outcome because the bill should have had more consumer protections. 

In an interview Tuesday evening, Causey said he didn’t get 90% of what he wanted. “Might be 10,15%,” he said. 

“I just want to see that the policyholders are protected and the consumers of North Carolina are protected,” he said. “I didn’t see that.”

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Lynn Bonner
Lynn Bonner

Investigative Reporter Lynn Bonner covers the state legislature and politics, as well as elections, the state budget, public and mental health, safety net programs and issues of racial equality.