North Carolina rejects BCBS, UnitedHealthcare protests of state health plan award

North Carolina is moving ahead with its plans to hand over its State Health Plan to Aetna, rejecting protests from Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina and UMR, a UnitedHealthcare subsidiary. 

According to a Jan. 20 press release from state treasurer Dale Folwell's office, State Health Plan administrators found both BCBS North Carolina and UMR's protests to be "without merit." 

In its statement, the treasurer's office said the State Health Plan administrator does not set premiums or determine benefits, and reassured members that premiums, copays and deductibles are not changing. 

"It's embarrassing to see entities trying to confuse our members by falsely advertising information regarding Plan benefits, which only leads to unnecessary member confusion," Mr. Folwell said in the release. 

Mr. Folwell said Jan. 4 the state intended to award Aetna the State Health Plan contract, which covers 740,000 state employees, beginning in 2025. BCBS North Carolina has held the contract for over 40 years. 

Aetna was awarded an initial three-year contract with the option to renew two one-year terms. The contract includes healthcare spending of more than $17.5 billion over five years.  

BCBS North Carolina filed a protest of the state's decision Jan. 12, and UMR, the third bidder for the plan, followed on Jan. 13. 

In a statement shared with Becker's, BCBS North Carolina said the state's response to its protest left "too many unanswered questions about how this change will affect costs and access to care for state employees and teachers." 

"We are disappointed that the Plan has refused to disclose any documents about its [request for proposals] process, despite our public records requests a month ago. Blue Cross NC will continue to pursue efforts to ensure the best outcome for teachers, state employees and North Carolina taxpayers," the company said.

Representatives for UnitedHealthcare did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Emails obtained by the Charlotte Observer showed State Health Plan administrators issued a request for contract proposals after growing frustrated with claims processing issues from BCBS North Carolina. 

"It is disappointing and unfortunate that others have used this as an opportunity to attack our integrity and carry out malicious accusations against the Board of Trustees and the professional staff of the State Health Plan," Mr. Folwell said. 

"The money and time would have been better spent improving their systems," he added. 

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