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Circle of Power

The latest news about the public debate and maneuvering over the possible conversion of Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina to a for-profit corporation is a reminder of one of the biggest problems with the inside-the-beltline-world of state politics and policy.

The News & Observer reported that two of the state's most well connected political operatives, Gary Pearce and Carter Wrenn, are now involved in the issue, working for a group of doctors and pharmacists opposed to the conversion.

Wrenn is a leading Republican consultant and for years was involved in running the campaigns of Senator Jesse Helms. Pearce made his name with campaigns of former Governor Jim Hunt and the 1998 campaign of Senator John Edwards.

Both are still very active in state political campaigns. Pearce in fact, is a consultant to the House Democratic Caucus, and was one of the chief proponents of pushing for a lottery referendum on the November ballot to increase the turnout of Democratic voters.

The story about the new consultants weighing in on the Blue Cross issue neglected to mention Pearce's relationship to the House Democrats, but did say that Peace was contacting members of the General Assembly about the possible conversion, beginning with House Speaker Jim Black, who is the head of the House Democratic Caucus.

The conversion question won't be the only legislation affecting the drug industry to come before the next General Assembly. There will be battles about prescription drugs in the Medicaid program, reimbursement rates, and many other issues.

There were reports that Pearce was working for the pharmaceutical industry last session as he was developing the House Democrats election strategy. He is clearly working for the industry now, and no doubt exploiting his employment relationship with Democratic legislators in the process.

There is no question that the industry benefits by hiring such a well-connected insider. But the people of North Carolina could lose if Pearce also continues to play a major role in key legislative decisions about state policy while also working for an industry that makes decisions based on its bottom line.

The last thing we need is another seat for special interests in the inner circle or power.

--Common Sense Foundation (www.common-sense.org)

Editor's Note: State Insurance Commissioner Jim Long said this week that he's extending the public comment period in the Blue Cross conversion process an additional 30 days, until Dec. 2. Details on the conversion law and other issues are available at www.ncdoi.com. Comments can be e-mailed to BCBSConversion@ncdoi.net or mailed to the Department of Insurance, attn: Peter Kolbe, P.O. Boc 26387, Raleigh, NC 27603.

To read The Independent's recent cover story on Blue Cross go to: www.indyweek.com/durham/2002-10-09/cover.html

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