Stuck in the middle with you…

I have had some interesting background emails concerning my N&R column that delved into the Cone/Blue Cross skirmish.  None of it has been kind to Blue Cross who seems to be emerging as the bad guy in the current flap here in Greensboro.

I’ll publish them if they give permission, but until then….  Here’s what I had to say about where I stand with the combatants…  (Update: The N&R’s Lex Alexander offers this front-pager in today’s edition.)

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“Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right.  Here I am.  Stuck in the middle with you.� 

I was reminded of this 1973 Stealers Wheel lyric upon receiving letters recently from both Moses Cone Health Systems and Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina.  Their correspondence warned that contract negotiations have fallen apart and unless someone gives in, they will part ways on November 1st.

To let the general public in on the feud, these pages offered up opposing editorials written by the CEOs of the combatants last Friday.  Moses Cone’s Tim Rice and Blue Cross’ Bob Greczyn both stated their cases and from my read, the only things they agreed upon were: a) the other side is making too much money, b) their customers are going to be greatly inconvenienced come November 1st and c) they both have the public’s best interest at heart.

I agree with them on the first two.  But regarding “c�?  Not so much.

After reading the claims and counter-claims made by each entity, my initial reaction was to tell them both to buzz off.  Rather than endure their quarrels, I’d prefer to send my health care dollars to the competition.  But I can’t. I’m stuck in the middle.

My wife Jinni’s follow-up care for breast cancer more than qualifies our family as having a pre-existing condition, so the Hoggard’s will be staying with Blue Cross.  As for Cone Health Systems; if you live in Greensboro there really aren’t any convenient options.  Their monopoly on Greensboro’s health care is nearly complete.

This is not to say I am dissatisfied with either Blue Cross or Cone Health.  To the contrary: because of those two companies I still have my girlfriend and am merely deeply in financial debt.  Without them I might have become a bankrupt bachelor.  But still…

When I read Rice and Greczyn’s opinions of each other, two statements gave me a sense that theirs is a game of financial one-upmanship more than a true concern for their customers’ well being.

Tim Rice writes, “BCBS has fallen far behind other insurance companies and we simply cannot continue to accept these low payments. Over the past 10 years, we’ve become a bargain for BCBS because our charges are 45 percent to 50 percent less than our peer hospitals in the state.�

To which Greczyn says, “How could an X-ray at one hospital cost six times as much as the same service at another facility less than 50 miles away?  …That’s just one of the things that puzzled us as we examined the recent demand by Moses Cone Health System for higher fees for hospital services.�

I take from those statements that either Moses Cone is an inefficient and over-priced provider of health care or Blue Cross is a greedy insurer who’s not interested in the financial health of Greensboro’s only hospital.  It could be, however, that both of my impressions are true.  I just can’t tell at this point given the partisan ‘he said, she said’ spins emanating from both camps.

What I do know is that unless both sides re-enter negotiations in good faith and with their customers’ best interest in mind, both entities will suffer financially and the communities served by Cone Health will need to take a hard look at the realities of our monolithic health care system.

Pay attention to the outcome of this whole Cone/Blue Cross mess. With our current health care system, it is likely that you will be stuck in the middle of a similar spat in the future.

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5 Comments

  1. Posted August 16, 2007 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    In his article Lex mentions the same type of spat between Blue Cross and Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem. They did indeed sever ties for about three months and it was worked out after Baptist re-opened negotiations with Blue Cross. However, I think one big difference between the Baptist and Moses Cone cases is that in Winston-Salem we have the Forsyth Medical Center hospital just 5-10 minutes away from Baptist. In other words Baptist has significant competition just down the road so I think Blue Cross customers had easy alternatives and thus Baptist had less leverage than Moses Cone might have. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Greensboro spat lasts longer than the Winston-Salem spat.

  2. Posted August 16, 2007 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the link, David. I’m trying to pull together more specific info for a folo.

  3. Gray
    Posted August 16, 2007 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    So do you have a wife, or a girlfriend, or both? I couldn’t help but notice that you referred to both in your column.

  4. dhoggard
    Posted August 16, 2007 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    I have both, Gray. they just happen to be the same woman.

  5. Keith
    Posted August 16, 2007 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    Gray…to answer your question….

    Speaking for my brother David…Jinni, his wife of 20+ years IS his girlfriend…or visa versa (whichever you prefer). Anyways…they are one and the same…the way it should be!!