Treasurer Dale Folwell’s quick response

By: By D.G. Martin - Contributing columnist

“I have just spent a couple of hours trying to negotiate the State Health Plan eligibility exercise and am still steaming about the difficulty I had following its directions. Others may have a better experience, but I kept thinking about others less well equipped and the time and frustration incurred by them,” I wrote to North Carolina Treasurer Dale Folwell.

Among his other duties, Folwell is in charge of the North Carolina State Health Plan, which provides insurance to state employees and retirees like me, and to our dependents, for an additional premium.

Last month he sent a letter to the plan’s participants requiring us to provide documentation to show that our family member dependents are really eligible. The letter explained, “Every dollar going to those who are ineligible is a dollar out of your pocket. As an important step towards reducing costs and eliminating waste, the Plan is conducting an audit to verify eligibility of dependents covered by the Plan.”

The letter directed plan participants like me to go to a website to provide proof of eligibility by uploading copies of tax returns or other documents to show that I was still married to my wife of 50 years. That proof had to be sent electronically and did not allow the simple mailing of a hard copy.

An independent contractor, not the treasurer or the State Health Plan, is running the audit. But the contractor’s website is confusingly interrelated with State Health Plan and other state government websites. They do not work well together for me, so I took another option, one that I would recommend to others. I took a photo of a tax return and emailed it to the contractor. I hope it works. Otherwise my wife will lose her health insurance coverage.

All this seems like a lot trouble for me, but the more important worry should be for people my age who simply “don’t do the Internet.”

Others may have missed the notice. For instance, one of my very smart friends is a high-level state employee. When I told him about my problems with the audit, he said that he had not heard about it.

I did not expect Folwell to respond to my complaint anytime soon.

Wrong!

He called and left a message within the hour and wrote an email asking me to meet. He wrote, “You will not believe a chart that I have that shows the complexity of the State Health Plan. Everything used to be with one vendor. Now it is almost a dozen; and the systems don’t talk to each other.”

I took up Folwell ‘s invitation to visit him at his offices on Atlantic Avenue four miles northeast of the State Capitol in Raleigh. In his remote but attractive headquarters, I was impressed with his openness and his efforts over the six months since he took office to save the state money wherever he can.

“We, that is the state’s pension funds, own $6 billion worth of real estate, but we don’t own our own building and pay $1.5 million a year to lease it.”

He has renegotiated reduced fees for the firms investing the state’s pension funds. But management of the State Health Plan, with almost 900,000 on the rolls, may be one of his greatest challenges.

He persuaded me that his decision to order an audit of State Health Plan participants was reasonable. But I still think the methodology was heavy-handed and likely to cause problems for state employees and retirees.

“I hope you’re not right,” Folwell said. “But if you are, I promise that we will have a friendly appeal process that makes things right.”

D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV.

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By D.G. Martin

Contributing columnist