One of our faithful correspondents alerted me to this developing story in North Carolina.
ProCare is a group initially founded by physicians and pharmacists to oppose the proposed conversion of North Carolina Blue Cross to for-profit status. The conversion did not take place, but ProCare, run by two well-known NC political operatives, one a Democrat, one a Republican, continued to operate. (See story here.)
In June, 2005, it released copies of internal Blue Cross documents revealing that Blue Cross had spent about $500,000 on expenses related to the US Open golf tournament. ProCare had previously revealed that Blue Cross spent about $600,000 on a Caribbean cruise for its brokers and sales agents. The context of these revelations included Blue Cross' large surpluses, estimated to be around $350 million in 2003 and 2004, which had inspired state legislators to write bills constraining its surpluses and the size of its reserves. (See story here.) Parentheticaaly, Blue Cross Chief Executive Officer [CEO] Bob Greczyn earned $900,000 in 2002, and more than $2 million in 2003. (See this link.)
Blue Cross' response to ProCare's revelations was to file a law-suit against ProCare. A news release quoted CEO Greczyn, "our customers depend on us to safeguard sensitive information every day. We're left with no choice but to act swiftly to protect our company against unlawful schemes to take and misuse confidential business information to further a narrow political or economic agenda." (See stories here and here.)
Carter Wrenn, one of the leaders of ProCare, disagreed, "If you want to call this what it really is, it's harassment. They don't want to have anybody debating whether they're acting like a nonprofit." ProCare leader Gary Pearce added, "how can disclosing the fact that they sponsored the Open be private business information? They boasted about sponsoring the open." (See story here.) On its web-site, ProCare referred to the suit as a SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation.)
In my humble opinion, it appears that Blue Cross may have been spending more lavishly than befits a not-for-profit, and is far too uncomfortable having this publicized. Threatening a lawsuit that contends that confidential business information was released, unfortunately, seems to be becoming an all too common tactic for health care leaders who don't want to look bad in public.
More transparency would be a wonderful thing for health care.
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