BCBSNC Pays $95K Fine for Illegal Robo Calls

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media , February 12, 2010

Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina's robo calls that urged members to oppose healthcare reform will cost the insurer $95,000 in fines, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper has announced.

"No one in North Carolina should have to endure unwanted robo calls that tie up phone lines and disturb their peace and quiet," Cooper said in a media release. "People have had enough of answering their phones and hearing a recorded message."

The company commissioned robo calls to 100,000 North Carolina residents in October without following state law, which requires a live operator to announce the automated message and give recipients the chance to refuse the call, the AG's office said. The settlement is the result of complaints filed with the attorney general in October after robo calls were made by vendor Campaign Connections on Blue Cross's behalf to North Carolinians. Blue Cross agreed to stop the calls when the health insurer was contacted by state consumer protection lawyers.

"We regret this mistake, and we apologize for the error made in how these calls were placed. We continue to believe that it is important for BCBSNC to take an active role in the health reform debate," BCBSNC Executive Vice President and General Counsel Maureen O'Connor said in a media release.

The 35-second robo call warned against the healthcare reform bill that Congress was working on last October. The insurer told policyholders to expect a mailer containing a prepaid post card. They were asked to sign the postcard, which expressed opposition to the reforms, and send it to U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, D-NC.

"From the beginning of the healthcare debate, BCBSNC has affirmed its support for health reform that covers all Americans, promotes quality care, and controls costs," O'Connor said. "The company has taken an active role in this discussion, particularly in educating North Carolinians on the likely impact of various health reform proposals. We will continue to be engaged."

Blue Cross is not legislatively exempt from the robo calls law, Cooper said, because it is not tax-exempt. The North Carolina General Assembly exempted some automated calls for healthcare and insurance purposes, but only for certain people, such as those who have business with the company, Cooper said.

The company has agreed to follow the law and adopt policies guiding its vendors to do the same. The $95,000 fine will go to the public schools in the state, Cooper said.

John Commins is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media.

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