Failed Blue Cross conversion leaves big gap

By Todd Cohen

In 2003, with a good shot to get a massive philanthropic antidote to its health crisis, North Carolina choked.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina wanted to convert from a nonprofit to a for-profit insurer, a move that would have created a huge charitable foundation focused on health.

But Blue Cross aborted its plans in the face of inflexible opposition led by Insurance Commissioner Jim Long and Self-Help CEO Martin Eakes.

Instead of fighting that bullying, and pushing to find common ground to address genuine concerns about Blue Cross, other political, business and nonprofit leaders kept quiet, costing the state dearly.

The new health foundation could have been as big as one created through the conversion of Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield in New York State.

The New York fund now is poised to get $4 billion through the expected $6.5 billion acquisition of Empire’s parent.

Urgent health, social and economic problems, outlined in a new N.C. Progress Board report, survive the health foundation’s premature death.

Fixing them will take leaders who can replace bullying, inflexibility and silence with the courage to push for social change, and the willingness to work together and compromise to make it happen.

Todd Cohen is the Editor and Publisher of the Philanthropy Journal.

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