Opinion/Philanthropy Journal – Give Blue a green light

By Todd Cohen

State Insurance Commissioner Jim Long should let Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina become a for-profit company.

After talking to North Carolinians and studying Blue conversions in other states, consultants hired by Long say rates are not likely to spike or coverage to plunge under a for-profit Blue Cross.

But the consultants do warn that the most vulnerable North Carolinians could lose coverage or be forced to pay a lot more for it if Blue Cross converts.

State law requires Long to decide whether conversion is in the state’s best interest, and the impact on rates and coverage is a key issue.

Blue Cross says it needs to be a for-profit company to raise the capital and gain the flexibility to compete in the brutally competitive health insurance market.

Long’s consultants say a for-profit Blue Cross could be more innovative and drive a more competitive health-care market in the state.

North Carolinians also should benefit from a huge new charitable foundation that the conversion would create.

Lacking a “smoking gun” showing that a for-profit Blue Cross would hurt our state, but heeding the fears of watchdogs, critics and his own consultants, Long should approve a conversion that requires Blue Cross to provide affordable insurance for the most vulnerable North Carolinians.

By moving quickly, Long can free Blue Cross to make the improvements it promises to make, while setting the stage for a new philanthropy to help address critical health needs in our state.

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