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Blue Cross now favored for city's health insurance

The city's personnel office has switched positions on a health-insurance provider for the next three years, now recommending the city continue with Blue Cross.

Previously, city staff and an employee review committee had recommended changing to United Healthcare. On Friday, though, Human Resources Manager Virginia Jones and Health Strategies Coordinator Dee Byers sent City Manager Tom Bonfield a memo with a new opinion.

The City Council is scheduled to vote on the insurance contract during its meeting tonight.

Mellow Mushroom in Cary to open Monday

Bob Greczyn, the former CEO of Blue Cross, has a new career: owning and operating a Mellow Mushroom franchise in Cary.

The Cary outpost of the popular Southeastern pizza chain will open Monday, Sept. 26. It is located at 4300 NW Cary Parkway, near the intersection with High House Road.

Greczyn, who is opening the restaurant with his 24-year-old son, Will, is a big fan of the Mellow Mushroom. "I love the concept and the brand," he says. They expect to be open for lunch and dinner daily, starting at 11 a.m. to about midnight.

What's different about the Cary location is the interior artwork; it's all on the ceiling. It's "mellowy" versions of works of the masters, Greczyn says.

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State Health Plan Overpays $49 Million

The State Auditors issued a report saying the State Health Plan may have overpaid as much as $49 million over the past three years. The plan points the finger at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, which administers the plan. State Auditor Beth Wood says studies show that 3 percent to 10 percent of health care payments are overpayments, either unintentional errors or fraud. But Blue Cross only tagged 1 percent as overpayments. Today's audit follows one last week where the State Auditor said the health plan had overpaid N.C. Baptist Hospital $1.34 million. 

N.C.'s 50 family friendliest companies

Flex time, back up child care, elder care resources, job sharing, mentoring. Who says workplace perks have disappeared in the recession? Carolina Parent's annual list of the top family friendly companies in North Carolina shows that some workplace benefits are here to stay.

The list released this morning has some familiar names. American Express, the Lyerly Agency, Replacements Ltd. and Rex Healthcare have all made the list for 12 years.

Back Story on Blue Cross

On Friday The News & Observer published an article on the last minute quashing of a law trying to rein in escalating hospital costs for prison inmates. BlueCross BlueShield executives were not pleased that the article reported then-Sen. Tony Rand changed the language at the request of BlueCross BlueShield. 

On Friday CEO Brad Wilson came to the N&O board room to deliver a two pronged criticism of the article: BlueCross did not request that Rand gut the bill, and BlueCross was not acting out of self-interest. The article did not touch on the BlueCross' motivation or interest in the change. It did clearly say BlueCross requested the change in language. 

"We were asked by the State Health Plan to look at it," Wilson said. "They were very concerned about the provision."

Some background:The Senate passed a budget in April that had no provision to rein in inmate hospital costs. The House passed a budget in June dictating that hospitals be reimbursed for inmate care at 150 percent of Medicare. 

Interested parties discussed the issue for the next few weeks: legislators, BlueCross, the hospital association, the State Health Plan.

The conference budget passed with a new provision: tie the rate for inmates to the State Health Plan rates. 

BlueCross lobbyist Mark Fleming said he saw the new language and deemed it unconstitutional. After consulting a legislative staffer, Fleming said he went to Rand on the Senate floor. Rand agreed to get the law changed, and told Fleming to get him language quickly so Rand could insert it in the technical corrections bill. 

Who wrote the language that BlueCross sent to Rand? 

Fleming at first said the language was written by a legislative staffer.

Would a legislative staffer send language to a lobbyist so the lobbyist could forward it to a senator? 

"I don't recall," Fleming said. "I don't remember where the language came from."

BlueCross officials said the language in the budget conference was unconstitutional. The company also contends that the language as rewritten is unconstitutional.

The rewritten law removed language mandating that inmate bills be tied to State Health Plan rates.  

In a conference call Friday evening, Wilson agreed that BlueCross initiated and was the moving force behind the change in language, contacting legislative staff, Rand and the State Health Plan, and emailing them new language to change the law. 

"That is technically accurate," Wilson said. 

Blue Cross, GSK among top employers for working moms

Drug maker GlaxoSmithKline and health insurer Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina are among the top employers on Working Mother magazine's 100 Best Companies list this year.

The magazine ranks companies with benefits and programs that support families, including flextime, telecommuting, job sharing and strong child care.

Keeping those perks during tough times will help employers attract top talent, and retain key workers as the economy recovers, said Carol Evans, CEO of Working Mother Media.

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