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Kent Conrad (D-ND) is one of the gang of six – the Senators on the Finance Committee who are trying to figure out how to pay for health care reform. Conrad has been pushing for a co-op plan, which would be done either regionally or state-by-state. Let’s take a look at health care in North Dakota, shall we?

Ninety percent of private health insurance in North Dakota is handled by Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota (BCBSND). BCBSND is a non-profit company. In fact, their website says they’re a mutual insurance company (which means their policyholders have certain ownership "rights").

Sounds to me like a co-op. Even if there are minor differences between a mutual insurance company and a co-op, I’m sure the lawyers of BCBSND could figure out a way to convert to co-op status.

Now let’s look at the brewing scandal in North Dakota.

The Forum (the newspaper in Fargo – the largest city in North Dakota) had an article on their website today. The Insurance Commissioner of North Dakota has been looking into BCBSND. Here’s the lede from today’s Forum story (DETAILS ONLY IN TODAY'S FORUM: Blue Cross Blue Shield execs profited from bogus bonuses -- unfortunately, you may have to sign up with the website to read the story):

Nearly $15 million in employee bonuses that were almost assured regardless of performance.

Sales reward trips to posh resorts totaling $1.2 million.

A $3.5 million investment in a murky hotel partnership lacking audited financial statements.

All this and much more during just the past five years are among almost half a billion dollars in expenses detailed in a report by state insurance examiners who probed spending practices by Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota.

Also, they’ve been jacking up their prices every year. Why not? They’re almost a monopoly. And they need that money to fly their top salespeople to the Grand Caymans. It gets cold in North Dakota.

Yeah, they’re non-profit. Yeah, they’re "owned" by policyholders. They’re almost a co-op. But they’re also the best argument for getting rid of health insurance and switching to a government plan.

Wait, there's more.

Before posting this, I checked DKos and found Kiku’s diary, Conrad's co-op would include BCBS. Here’s a quote from the NY Times (thanks, Kiku):

Mr. Conrad’s own state demonstrates the uncertainties surrounding cooperatives. Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota dominates the state’s private insurance market, collecting nearly 90 percent of premiums. As a nonprofit owned by its members, the company would hope to qualify as a co-op under federal legislation, said Paul von Ebers, its incoming president and chief executive.

Kiku not only links to the NY Times article, but to a couple other diaries. If you want, you can read lots more about BCBSND.

---

WOW! Rec-listed. Cool.

UPDATE: BCBSND called a press conference for 2pm (Central), but it was pushed ahead to 3pm and now 4pm (2pm Pacific, 5pm Eastern). If it happens, you can stream it from wday.com (click on the AM radio button).

Here's what I learned. The 100-page insurance commissioner's report was finished last week. Blue Cross Blue Shield of ND asked for two weeks to read it and come up with a reply. It was supposed to be made public on Sept. 18 (which just happens to be three days after the Sept. 15 deadline for a health care bill).

But it was leaked to the Forum, who wrote a story about it. BCBSND gave the insurance commissioner permission to release the report today. So I think that's what will happen at 4pm. Stories about it will be in the news tonight. I'm guessing that later tonight or tomorrow, you can also probably download a PDF from the ND Insurance Commissioner's website.

Re-update: Nothing very interesting. BCBS says, basically, "We got caught. We're sorry. It won't happen again."

The ND Insurance Commissioner's Report is here: Hamm releases Blue Cross Blue Shield target exam report. There's a link that gives you the PDF.

Originally posted to Dbug on Tue Sep 08, 2009 at 10:56 AM PDT.

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