There are very concrete reasons to not trust our State Treasurer Dale Folwell. Any remaining trust that this teacher had in him faded even more with news yesterday that he was awarding the state’s health care contract to a new company after 40 years with Blue Cross / Blue Shield.
The new plan is supposedly going to save the state around $140 million dollars over the course of the contract with the for-profit Aetna over the non-profit BCBSNC.
It’s also supposed to provide more transparency.
Transparency is an interesting notion. Remember this from 2019? From an article in the Winston-Salem Journal:
The second sign-up deadline for the controversial State Health Plan reimbursement contract came and went Monday with just one hospital agreeing to join during the 14-day period.
Only four out of 126 hospitals have signed the Clear Pricing Project contract backed by the SHP and state Treasurer Dale Folwell.
UNC Health Care took a lead lobbying role with legislative leaders from both parties and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper to get Folwell and the SHP to delay, if not halt, the contract roll out. Cooper’s office said it is reviewing the UNC Health Care proposal.
Folwell and UNC Health Care have held negotiations, including Monday.
UNC Health Care said Monday that while it has not agreed to sign the contract, “board members had a good discussion (with Folwell) and we expect to engage in additional discussions.”
“We have the same goal as Treasurer Folwell — improving the health of employees, and that is accomplished through the provision of a sustainable health plan, implemented in a transparent fashion.”
Folwell took a less diplomatic stance on the current negotiations with UNC Health Care.
“Taxpayer-owned UNC Health Care has turned down a reasonable 100% profit and boycotts its own employees, and others, in favor of secret contracts and higher costs,” Folwell said.
“We can no longer be involved in activities that are designed to restrict competition and raise prices. We look forward to partnering with UNC Health Care when they are committed to the same.”
When asked about another deadline extension, Folwell said “deadline or no deadline, our responsibility is to figure out what we are spending $3 billion of taxpayer and employee money on.”
Cynthia Charles, communications director with N.C. Healthcare Association, said Monday that “we are not aware of any other hospitals having that level of discussions” as UNC Health Care.
I get it. Transparency is nice. But what will happen if all of the health are professionals who serve the 700,000 state employees now have to start fresh with a new insurance company that may nor be part of the network that so many have become accustomed to?
And what role has Folwell played in helping to expand Medicaid in NC for so many people who desperately need it with really no cost to the state? When people can’t pay medical bills because of prices of health care, then those costs get paid in other ways. Simply expanding Medicaid would help those costs. And Folwell is all about saving money.
Remember this now famous letter from Folwell to teachers in 2017?
“Did You Know?
During 2017, the state spent $3.3 billion on medical and pharmacy benefits. At the same time, costs have increased 5 to 10 percent while funding for the Plan only saw a 4 percent increase. In addition, the state has a $34 billion unfunded liability for retiree health care. This liability is a result of promises that were made for lifetime benefits but no money was ever put aside to pay for that benefit.
What Can You Do?
You can help sustain this benefit by taking control of your medical costs.”
Many teachers and other state employees received those words from Dale Folwell, CPA who is still the State Treasurer for North Carolina. He sent a letter with new ID cards for the state health plan that is contracted through Blue Cross and Blue Shield.
And simply put, his letter was rather insulting, at least to me and to some other teachers.
I could not help to think that in a missive meant to outline benefits to a person whom “North Carolina values,” I was also being told that I literally cost too much, was promised too much, and that it was my job to not be as much of a burden on the state.
And that paragraph under the “Did You Know?” heading showed a bit of a contradiction in how the state seems to treat the teaching profession: as prices for services and products go up in most every segment of the economy, the willingness to invest in those very things seems to not be the same.
And the idea that we teachers and government employees must try and cut costs to help the state finance insurance benefits when the state literally is giving massive corporate tax breaks and limiting the very revenues that come to the state to begin with is rather hypocritical.
Folwell also invests the roughly $118 billion pension fund for educators, civil servants, and first responders but intentionally left at least $17 billion uninvested in 2021. He’s was even trying to earn a meaningful return on this money.
Toward the very end of an August 25th, 2021 meeting of his Investment Advisory Committee, Folwell admitted how he expected the state to make up the money that he hasn’t earned. His thoughts are about raising the retirement age for educators, civil servants, and first responders, as well as demanding more from the state budget every year. This approach almost guarantees that local governments will have to increase local taxes. Simply look up the recording of the August Investment Advisory Committee. It is a little over two hours long,
Remember that Folwell is aligned with political powers in Raleigh who are not only sitting on billions in surplus money, but are still pushing to abolish corporate taxes.
This change to Aetna may not be all that it is touted to be. The idea of saving money is definitely something that a state treasurer should concern himself with. But we are talking about the well-being of over 700,000 people. The switch to a for-profit entity whose profits have soared since the passing of the Affordable Care Act which may force people to find new providers all while not having any expansion of Medicaid in NC does not sound like a win to this teacher.