Editorial: Possible bribe — the right thing to do
Rep. Fred Steen should be commended for how he reacted recently when approached with what he believed was an improper offer tied to a bill he introduced in the General Assembly.
More specifically, Steen reported to the General Assembly’s Joint Legislative Ethics Committee that a lobbyist presented what appeared to be a bribe offered in exchange for Steen’s killing the bill.
The State Employees Association of North Carolina alleged the lobbyist works for health-care insurer Blue Cross Blue Shield. And China Grove physician Dr. Eric Troyer told The Insider, a publication that focuses on state government, the offer amounted to forgiving a $400,000 debt Blue Cross says it’s owed by Troyer for overpayments.
No one in the legislature ó or the State Bureau of Investigation, which has been asked to look into the matter ó has officially named Steen as the House member who reported the improper offer or the Blue Cross lobbyist as the person who made it.
In fact, the Post first reported the story Friday after learning of Steen’s connection to it more than two weeks earlier in part because the newspaper tried to give the Republican lawmaker from Landis ample opportunity to comment, even if all he said was, “No comment.” And that’s essentially what Steen said Thursday when he finally returned a Post reporter’s call after not responding to at least half a dozen phone messages.
Steen probably didn’t know what to say. He’d undoubtedly been told by higher-ups in the House, and possibly by law enforcement agents, to keep quiet about this matter.
Regardless, Steen obviously did what he thought was right. And that’s how the whole thing got started, according to what Troyer (who didn’t return a Post reporter’s call last week) told The Insider. When the doctor believed Blue Cross was wrongfully targeting him to recoup what it deemed insurance overpayments, he asked Steen to join him in a meeting with company representatives. When that yielded no solution, Steen did what a legislator is supposed to do: he saw a problem and tried to fix it. Steen filed a bill to impose new rules and time limits on insurers seeking to recover overpayments.
Despite the fact that some of these same issues have been addressed in a court settlement agreed to by Blue Cross, the company is alleged to have been so alarmed by Steen’s bill that its lobbyist said it would swallow the $400,000 loss in exchange for the legislation’s demise.
Steen instead went to the Ethics Committee and asked if he could, and should, continue with the bill under the circumstances.
Whether the legislation ó which the House approved unanimously and is now in the Senate for consideration ó is ultimately good or bad for the relationship between insurers and health-care providers is yet to be determined.
What’s clear is that while the words “ethics” and “Raleigh” have not often been favorably paired recently, Steen apparently did the right thing every step of the way, even if he’s not telling.