This week State Treasurer Dale Folwell had an unexpected encounter with two of the many North Carolina educators facing catastrophic increases in medical expenses as a result of changes he is making to the State Health Plan.
It did not go very well.
Folwell claims his new Clear Pricing Project is necessary because confidential costs in medical care currently have the State Health Plan on a path toward insolvency. Folwell’s plan establishes a new North Carolina State Health Plan Network which will set its “own rates instead of paying providers rates that are set under confidential contracts.” Doctors and hospitals that choose not to participate in the Clear Pricing Project will be considered out of network and can charge patients whatever they want.
Here’s the problem: Very few hospitals and doctors are interested in taking Folwell’s offer. In fact, when his July 1 registration deadline passed, only three out of the roughly one hundred hospitals in the state had signed on.
If nothing changes significantly in the standoff, many of North Carolina’s more than 700,000 state employees and retirees may soon find their current providers out of network and be saddled with medical bills they can’t pay.
Susan Ringo is a middle school librarian in Wilkesboro. She was recently diagnosed with a congenital health issue requiring regular treatment at a hospital which has not signed on to the Clear Pricing Plan. She calls this a “truly terrifying situation.” Cabarrus County English teacher Michael Landers is diabetic and relies on Atrium Health–also not currently taking Folwell’s deal–to meet his health care needs. Landers estimates his medical costs will double and that he will be unable to afford treatment on his teacher’s salary.
On Wednesday, Folwell came face to face with both of these educators on the set of the NC Public School Forum’s weekly television show Education Matters. The treasurer had accepted an invitation to appear on the show and talk about the Clear Pricing Plan. However, he was apparently unaware that he would have to be in the same room with people who are about to see their lives turned upside down by his changes to the health plan.
Folwell appeared very uncomfortable with the feeling of accountability.
According to Michael Landers, Folwell was visibly agitated upon learning that the other participants in the show were educators. When he was introduced to Landers and Ringo, Folwell asked how long they had been working in schools. Landers explained he’d been teaching 21 years, and the treasurer retorted, “How come you weren’t worried about this 20 years ago?” Landers gave Folwell some background on his Type 1 diabetes, his insulin dependency, and fears over the pending increase in the cost of his medical care. Rather than reacting to the concerns with empathy, Folwell suggested Landers shop around and referred to the hospitals as “cartels,” a contemptuous term he has also used in public. It’s an ominous sign of the mindset our state treasurer brings to sensitive negotiations as the well being of hundreds of thousands of state employees and their families hangs in the balance.
Mr. Folwell would do well to engage in some soul searching about the root cause of his discomfort on the set of Education Matters. I would imagine it’s a lot easier to live with the negative impact of your actions when those most affected are largely anonymous to you.
But the state employees who are facing serious harm because of Folwell’s Clear Pricing Project are more than just numbers on a spreadsheet. They are Susan Ringo, and Michael Landers, and thousands of others who have dedicated their lives to serving our state. They deserve a lot better than to be unwilling victims of Dale Folwell’s dangerous game of chicken.
You can catch this week’s episode of Education Matters in the following ways: