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Oops! Blue Cross mails customers about 11% rate increase, opposition to public option

It’s hard to make the case that private insurers are simply out to protect their profits any better than this:

Maybe it was just lousy timing, but many customers of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina are ticked off at the mail they’ve received recently from the state’s largest insurer.

First, they learned their rates will rise by an average of 11 percent next year.

Next, they opened a slick flier from the insurer urging them to send an enclosed pre-printed, postage-paid note to Sen. Kay Hagan denouncing what the company says is unfair competition that would be imposed by a government-backed insurance plan. The so-called public option is likely to be considered by Congress in the health-care overhaul debate.

For those who need a reminder, a public health insurance option would compete directly with private insurers like Blue Cross, and a public health insurance option wouldn’t have to turn a profit, forcing Blue Cross’s rates down.

Blue Cross extorts more money from their customers with one hand with an 11% rate increase – they do control a whopping 53% of the market in North Carolina after all [pdf], and 98% of the individual market and billions in reserve dollars, so they can get away with that kind of thing – and with the other, tries to enlist these same customers to fight against something that would Blue Cross’s rates and profits.

Fortunately, the good people of North Carolina are having none of it.

Indignant Blue Cross customers, complaining that their premium dollars are funding the campaign, have called Hagan’s office to voice support for a public option. They’ve marked through the Blue Cross message on their postcards and changed it to show they support the public option, then mailed the cards.

“I hope it backfires,” said Mark Barroso, a documentary film maker in Chatham County who is a Blue Cross customer and recipient of the mailings. “I’m doing everything I can to make sure it does.”

Beth Silberman of Durham said she “went sort of bonkers” about the mailing. “You’re hostage to them, and then they pull this,” she said. “My new premiums are funding lobbying against competition. It’s pretty disgusting.”

Check out one of the “corrected” postcards:

It’s a true grassroots effort, and one that’s already getting the attention of Senator Hagan’s office.

Thank you, Blue Cross, for making the point for us so well. Whatever the insurance companies want, you should want the opposite. If they win, you lose.

(also posted at the NOW! blog)

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Jason Rosenbaum

Jason Rosenbaum

Writer, musician, activist. Currently consulting for Bill Halter for U.S. Senate and a fellow at the New Organizing Institute.

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