One of the bigger bills of this legislature — designed to give the state’s largest health insurer the flexibility to transfer billions of dollars into a new holding company and buy other companies without government oversight — comes back on track for passage on Wednesday.
House Bill 346, which is a priority for Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, is scheduled for the first hearing in the state Senate Committee. It has strong support in the chamber.
Republican-elect Mike Causey, the state’s insurance commissioner, is opposed to the measure, saying it bows to corporate greed and would allow the company to evade his office’s scrutiny.
The company and supporters of the bill in the Statehouse say it’s a necessary update to the old rules and will allow the nonprofit insurer to compete with for-profit health insurance companies like Aetna and UnitedHealthcare.
The bill would allow Blue Cross, as well as Delta Dental, the only other company in the state organized as a “hospital services company,” to form a holding company that would own the insurance business. That holding company would not be subject to the regulatory scrutiny that Blue Cross currently exercises, and executives could transfer some of the $4.6 billion in reserves the company has in reserves to the holding company.
That would give Blue Cross more freedom to buy other companies without having to wait for Causey’s office, and in some cases Attorney General Josh Stein’s office, to consider proposals.
Causey campaigned against the bill, but without much success. Last month, the House of Representatives was released with bipartisan support. Lawmakers say Blue Cross needs these changes to remain competitive and Blue Cross is one of the state’s bigger campaign donors. Stein said Tuesday that last week he discussed “a number of changes” with the company designed to protect the company’s policyholders. If those changes are passed, Stein said in a statement, he would support the bill.
However, on Tuesday it was not clear when these changes would take effect. Chairmen of the Senate Commerce and Insurance Committee, which is due to hear the bill on Wednesday, said Tuesday afternoon that they had not yet seen any amendments.
A BCBS spokeswoman said the company is open to discussions about the bill and “continues to work with lawmakers and other stakeholders on this bipartisan legislation that will improve the health and well-being of North Carolina and its communities.”
Rep. John Bradford, the House supporter of the bill, said Tuesday he wanted the bill to pass the Senate with no amendments.
“I have no plans to table any amendments,” said Bradford, R-Mecklenburg. “This bill has been around for so long that we need to get it to the finish line. … We will pass this bill as it is.”
Causey said the bill would need further processing before he could support it. As for the committee hearing, Causey said he only hopes they will have an open discussion and listen to all sides.