Tar Heel Tattler - September 2005

Blue Cross suit might cause stickers shock
By Arthur O. Murray

It’s hard not to see Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina in the role of Br’er Fox. You remember him from the Uncle Remus stories: He caught his nemesis, Br’er Rabbit, but then the fox allowed himself to be persuaded to punish the rabbit by throwing him in the briar patch — exactly where the rabbit wanted to be.

Blue Cross sued ProCare, a vocal critic of the Chapel Hill-based insurer, trying to silence its criticism. But hauling the advocacy group into court may amount to giving it a megaphone.

Doctors founded Raleigh-based ProCare in 2002 to thwart Blue Cross’ plan to ditch its nonprofit status. ProCare won that battle but has continued to argue that Blue Cross acts too much like a for-profit business. It says internal documents posted on ProCare’s Web site show the insurer spent nearly $500,000 on a hospitality suite and accommodations at the U.S. Open golf tournament in June at Pinehurst.

The lawsuit, filed July 1 in Wake County Superior Court, contends that ProCare conspired with an employee of the insurer to steal and publish the documents, giving competitors an unfair look inside its business. It asks the court to order ProCare to remove the material from its Web site, refrain from publishing any other purloined paperwork, return what it has and pay unspecified damages.

ProCare is run by the political odd couple of Republican Carter Wrenn, once an adviser to former U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms, and Gary Pearce, a Democrat with close ties to former Gov. Jim Hunt. “Getting sued is not the thrill of my life,” Wrenn says. “But in terms of getting the message out and telling people what’s wrong with how Blue Cross has been operating, they’ve already helped us get the message out double.”

Bigger issues justify the suit, Blue Cross spokeswoman Gayle Tuttle says. “Blue Cross competes against large, well-funded companies that go to great length to protect their confidential information. We intend to do the same.”

Wrenn says Blue Cross has another motive. “They think they can basically lawyer us to death. They’d rather have us spending our money on lawyers instead of getting our message out.” But, again like Br’er Rabbit, ProCare is trying to gain an advantage. “Our fundraising has been much more successful since the lawsuit was filed.” He says more Blue Cross customers have come to the group with complaints. “There are a lot of stories that are very different from their commercials.”