Advocates of health exchange want insurance companies out

March 2, 2011 2:49:18 PM PST
A new fight over health insurance is heating up and more than a million North Carolinians could be affected by it.

A new health exchange is being established to help small business and individuals shop for coverage. But, should insurance companies be among those helping?

Advocated of the exchanges say if insures like Blue Cross Blue Shield oversee those exchanges, it would be like the fox guarding the hen house.

"It's a major conflict of interest," said Lou Meyers, Hairport of Durham.

Meyers has been in the business of cutting hair for more than 30 years but business has gotten expensive.

"It's been horrible," he said.

Meyers says because of skyrocketing health insurance rates, he's had to cut his whole staff except for family. He's hoping a health exchange will bring prices down, but he's worries that a bill working its way through the legislature would allow insurance companies, including Blue Cross Blue Shield, to sit on the exchange's board of directors.

"It's sort of like Consumer Reports just came out with a best buy for cars," Meyers explained. "It's sort of like saying now Consumer Reports is going to be run by car manufacturers. It's the same thing. You can't have it. It makes no sense whatsoever."

But Blue Cross Blue Shield spokesman Lew Borman says it wouldn't make sense it the company wasn't a part of the conversation.

"We know how to set up these mechanisms, such as a call center, different kinds of cost plans," Borman said. "We know what people are looking for because we deal with it every day."

That's the problem though -- according to the new coalition called Citizens for Responsible Health Care. It consists of more than a dozen non-profits that are urging lawmakers to keep insurance companies out of the new exchange.

"We do not think that insurance companies should be setting the criteria for health plans sold in this exchange," said Abby Emanuelson, MS Society.

The bill would give three seats on the 11 person board to insurance companies. However, Borman points out only one would go to Blue Cross.

"One vote isn't controlling the board," Borman said.

That's little comfort to Meyers, who puts much of the blame for high health insurance costs on insurance providers.

"It's like the fox guarding the hen house except in this case, the fox is dressed up in chicken suits," Meyers explained. "Ii mean it's just no win."

Health exchanges across the country and in NC have to be up and running by 2014. Critics are hoping that with three years to work on it, state lawmakers will have plenty of time to get it right.

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