Druggists, docs fight Blue

Independent pharmacists and physicians opposed to Blue Cross’ plan to become a for-profit company have hired two high-powered political operatives to make their case, The News & Observer in Raleigh reported Oct. 31.

Calling itself the ProCare Coalition of North Carolina, the group is led by Raleigh pharmacist Mike James, who heads the N.C. Association of Pharmacists, and Bert Coffer, a Raleigh anesthesiologist whose practice, Critical Health Systems of North Carolina, includes 44 anesthesiologists.

The coalition has hired Carter Wrenn, a former adviser to Republican U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms, and Gary Pearce, a former adviser to former Democratic Gov. Jim Hunt.

Wrenn and Pearce played key roles in the bitter 1984 Senate race in which Helms, the incumbent, beat Hunt, then finishing his second term as governor.

Blue Cross, in turn, says the coalition wants to “extract more money from our customers by waving the banner of conversion.”

Brad Wilson, senior vice president and general counsel for Blue Cross, said “monopolistic” anesthesiology groups such as Critical Health Systems had left Blue Cross’ networks and were demanding rates three-and-a-half to six times what Medicare pays – costs Blue Cross said customers ultimately would pay.

Wilson also said pharmacists had pushed for “anti-consumer” legislation to let them add unlimited surcharges to prescription-drug costs that could boost health-care costs for Blue Cross consumers by up to $64 million a year.

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