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.