The outrage of the week comes from a presentation from an executive with Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina to a legislative committee studying the cost of health insurance. BCBSNC Vice President John Friesen told the committee that lifestyle is the biggest driver of rising health care costs.
Friesen listed obesity, tobacco use and depression as the major cost items in the lifestyle category and said that 7 of the top ten prescription drugs that Blue Cross pays for are related to lifestyle.
Apparently, Blue Cross believes that mental illness is a lifestyle choice. People can choose to exercise and they can choose not to be mentally ill. That may come as surprising news to individuals and families devastated by mental illness, including depression. Folks should just choose to feel better, just like they should choose not to be poor.
This absurd and cavalier claim by Blue Cross demands an explanation and an apology. It also makes it pretty clear why North Carolina is one of a dwindling number of states that does not require insurance companies to cover mental illness the same way they cover mental illness. Mental health parity will never happen if statements like this one go unchallenged and Blue Cross continues to consider depression a lifestyle choice.
An article this week in the Charlotte Observer takes on the common perception that Governor Mike Easley has been absent from many of the state’s important policy debates. The story quotes several Raleigh insiders pointing out Easley’s success passing the lottery, enacting programs aimed at reducing class size and helping at-risk children, and raising taxes to balance the budget in the first years of his administration.
Much of the dissatisfaction with Governor Easley is not that he is ineffective or hasn’t been able to ultimately push his priorities through the General Assembly. It is that he has been largely silent about the human service crisis in the state.
Easley has not spoken out on the minimum wage and refused to even mention the state’s shameful record on HIV/AIDS. He has said little about the state’s rising poverty rate, the growing number of people without health insurance and the crisis in affordable housing.
No one expects a governor to solve all of the state’s problems. But it should not be too much to ask that he acknowledge them and help develop a plan to address issues affecting hundreds of thousands of people.
It is true that Easley showed courage in proposing tax increases to avoid even deeper cuts to balance the state budget after he took office. But he also attacked his opponent in the 2004 election for supporting tax increases, reinforcing the view that raising taxes is a bad idea.
Last year he recommended that lawmakers lower taxes on the state’s wealthiest individuals, even while the state has thousands of kids on a waiting list for a child care subsidy and communities are struggling to find money to help people with mental illness.
Easley still has three years to go running the state. He still has time to lay the groundwork for a plan to solve many of the state’s problems, not just the ones recommended by the political consultants. Easley says he is not running for another office. Let’s hope he governs like it.
The debate over immigration is spawning some of the most hateful rhetoric heard in the state in many years. More about that in future Fitzsimon Files. A recent news alert from an anti-immigration group urged its supporters to post fliers about the issue to counter the "Spanish media."
The alert said that the "English media often sits idle twiddling their thumbs while the Spanish media is organizing and motivating their supporters into action." You may not have realized that England and Spain are engaged in the immigration debate in North Carolina, but apparently it’s true.