Folwell sweetens health plan offer

State Treasurer Dale Folwell announced this week that he is sweetening the pot to entice organizations like UNC Health Care to get on board with his vision of the new State Health Plan that will affect the health care of roughly 727,000 state employees, including most teachers and many other government workers in the Twin Counties.

So far, UNC Health Care, which includes Nash UNC Health Care and other affiliated medical offices in the Rocky Mount area, has declined to join the State Health Plan. If it continues to refuse, these facilities will be out-of-network for members of the plan, resulting in significantly higher costs for using them.

This week, Folwell and the authors of the State Health Plan announced that they are re-opening the time period for medical providers to sign up to be a part of the plan. The original “firm” deadline was July 1. Providers now can sign up between July 26 and Aug. 5 at midnight.

The State Health Plan also is increasing its payments to some rural and urban hospitals to encourage their participation, paying on average almost double the rate paid by Medicare.

“This latest announcement comes after the plan announced in March that it was adjusting rural hospital rates to address concerns of some that the Clear Pricing Project could negatively impact rural health care,” a press release from the State Treasurer’s Office announced.

Under the new proposal, participating hospitals will receive an additional $116 million from the proposal announced in March. State taxpayers will save $166 million and plan members will save $34 million in reduced costs, the press release said.

“The decision to readjust rates comes after many meetings and discussions with hospital officials and others,” Folwell said in the press release. “We’re very pleased that 27,000 medical providers have signed on to the Clear Pricing Project. However, we realize that our members need to have additional hospitals for the plan to have coverage. This final offer is very generous, almost doubling the rate that Medicare pays providers. We urge all hospitals to stop the unreasonable attacks and respond to this reasonable offer.”

In a press release issued at the end of June, Folwell denounced the actions of UNC Health Care in trying to halt the Clear Pricing Project that Folwell believes is essential to reining in health care costs in the state.

“The public should be troubled and alarmed that the president of UNC Health Care Network Hospital, Chris Ellington, approved spending tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars on a dark money political group, called Partners for Innovation in Healthcare, to stop the Clear Pricing Project from moving forward,” Folwell said in the earlier press release. “The fact that Ellington sits on the board of the North Carolina Healthcare Association, which sponsors Partners for Innovation in Healthcare, represents a huge conflict of interest.”

This week, Folwell encouraged hold-out organizations to join the plan.

“We’re doing what’s right,” Folwell said. “Someone has to expose the secret contracts and dark money that has caused health care costs to skyrocket in this state and across the country. We’re doing this so that our members will have an affordable and accessible health care benefit in the future. I urge medical providers to accept this very generous offer. The options — both short and long term — are not good. We need to act now.”

The issue affects everyone in the state because North Carolina taxpayers spend more than $3.4 billion annually on health care for active and retired state and local government employees, the press release noted. This is more than the amount spent on the entire university or justice system.

Medical and pharmaceutical costs are increasing 5 percent to 9 percent annually and current spending projections estimate that the State Health Plan will run out of money in 2023 unless action is taken, the release said.

“Over the past 10 years, plan members have seen premiums, co-pays and deductibles steadily increase,” the release said. “Family premiums have nearly doubled. Starting teachers, troopers and other public workers must often choose between the State Health Plan and mortgage payments or food.”

Dee Jones, executive administrator of the State Health Plan, said the changes to the plan are based on input from medical providers.

“We’ve had hundreds of conversations with hospitals and other medical providers,” Jones said in the release. “We listened, and we heard you. We are absolutely committed to looking at all options that will maintain price transparency, reduce costs and improve outcomes for our members.”

So far, UNC Health Care is remaining mum on the issue.

In response to questions about the reaction of UNC Health Care to the new proposal, Phil Bridges, executive director of integrated communications with the organization, would only say, “We do not have anything to share at this time.”

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