Time for reset in State Health Plan dispute

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Everyone embroiled in the debate over the State Health Plan should be working toward the same thing: the best health care for the lowest cost for the people of North Carolina.

Unfortunately, disagreement over how to do that escalated into a feud and now has plummeted into a childlike spat.

The State Employees Association of North Carolina has launched a smear campaign targeting the seven-figure salary of Vidant Health chief executive Michael Waldrum. A website and a video produced by the group attacks him with the slogan “Million Dollar Mike.”

The campaign started after Vidant and most of the other hospital systems in the state refused to contract with the health plan, administered by the office of State Treasurer Dale Folwell.

Reforms Folwell made to cut costs to plan members and taxpayers also would reduce payments to hospitals and require up-front pricing, so the hospitals are resisting.

Caught in the middle are thousands of state employees, who likely would have to pay higher out-of-network costs for services rendered at Vidant and other hospital networks.

SEANC, which is closely allied with the treasurer on this issue, is making the case that executives like Waldrum are more concerned about lining their own pockets than caring for state employees at a reasonable and transparent price.

Painting Waldrum and Vidant as greedy and uncaring is inaccurate and unhelpful. It slanders him and a hospital system that is a pillar of compassion and care in this community and eastern North Carolina. Further, it poisons our ability to resolve a dispute among interests that all have legitimate claims and free ourselves from the quagmire of American health care.

The treasurer and SEANC are correct in their assertions that a visit to the hospital costs too much money, it’s true that patients should know how much they will have to pay before they undergo a procedure, and the state must indeed address the growing unfunded liability faced by its health plan.

Hospital systems like Vidant, however, have a moral obligation and a federal mandate to provide care to everyone regardless of their ability to pay. That drives up the cost of care for those who can pay and contributes to complicated pricing.

Insurers have a role to play as well. The contracts they negotiate with health care providers are thick with secrecy and profit.

All the factors at play are too complex to dissect here, even if we fully understood them all — all the more reason to avoid adding personal attacks to the equation.

The treasurer, who himself told The Daily Reflector earlier this month that his opponents needed to end the vitriol, has made some concessions to hospitals, raising reimbursement levels to entice them to join the plan. But he and his allies have dug in their heels against delaying reforms past January, when the new plan is set to go into effect.

The stalemate, along with the ongoing state budget impasse over Medicaid expansion and the continuing governance dispute between Vidant and the University of North Carolina system, is creating an imminent health care crisis.

We hope that leaders in our state seize on the situation as an opportunity to take bold and immediate action.

Unlike the hyperbole over the salary of hospital administrators, it is no exaggeration to say that people will die if they don’t.

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