You may have seen the headline last week in Becker’s Hospital Review: “9 things to know about the massive BCBS of NC system failure.” In short, BCBS of NC has imploded, leaving thousands of customers in limbo, waiting to find out if they actually have the health insurance they enrolled for over a month ago. Approximately 25,000 customers were put in the wrong health plans – and billed for those plans. Frankly, I’m stunned that this issue hasn’t received more press coverage locally and nationally. (If a hospital erred this badly, it would make national news and BCBS would be calling for an investigation.) This issue is important because thousands of people in North Carolina are scared. Through no fault of their own, they’re concerned that they no longer have healthcare coverage. They feel powerless to impact the situation. And they don’t know where to turn for help.
The situation is so bad that the CEO of BCBSNC, Brad Wilson, had to issue a public apology in the form of a blog post. It was a weak apology where he downplayed the scope and impact of the problem – a problem that has continued now for an entire month.
Customer frustrations have grown to the point where BCBSNC is now fearful and has asked local police to step up patrols around their facilities. Here’s the text from an email BCBSNC sent to its employees about security concerns related to this fiasco:
According to BCBSNC, its service challenges were caused by a new system and a billing company (vendor) error. BCBSNC recently implemented a new customer service record system and it hasn’t gone well. In addition, the company has placed blame on mistakes made by its claims processing and billing vendor. However, a whistleblower has claimed that BCBSNC knew about the issues well in advance of the current crisis. The staff member said the company decided to move forward with the software switch even though potential problems were foreseeable.
- Many customers who signed up online for new health plans that were to go into effect on January 1, 2016, still do not have confirmation that their new plan is active. They are effectively uninsured and in limbo.
- Customers received renewal notices for plans they did not sign up for – the wrong plan. (My wife was one of those.)
- Customers have been billed for cancelled policies. BCBSNC administered automatic bank drafts for 3,200 customers for an incorrect amount. If you are one of those customers who has selected a new plan, but received confirmation and billing for the old plan, what are you to do?
- Many customers have not received confirmation or ID cards for their new plans, while others received incorrect ID cards.
- Customers report being on hold for hours while trying to reach a BCBS customer service representative. Read the customer comments on BCBSNC’s Facebook page. You’ll definitely see a theme of being on hold for hours; being promised return calls that never come; and reaching customer service representatives who are not equipped to address the issues at hand.
- BCBSNC encourages customers to private message them to get on a call back list. When customers do that, they receive a message that their case has been upgraded in some way, implying that they will receive priority treatment and that a return call has been scheduled. But for many that call never comes.
- Customers have also experienced challenges trying to resolve issues online, due to BCBSNC system failures. When they do log on to the Blue Connect system, many report that their account no longer exists or it simply cannot locate their policy information.
If you want to get a feel for the scope of the problem, go to the BCBSNC Facebook page and read some of the customer comments. Here’s a screen shot that captures some of the recent comments on the page:
If you’d like more information about the BCBSNC Debacle, below are links to some of the articles that have run. One of my favorites is the story about the customer who went to BCBS’ administrative offices and threatened to chain himself to the building until his situation had been resolved.
This entire situation has made me wonder if anyone at BCBSNC ever worked in crisis communications? Clearly not. Don’t they have a capable PR firm who advises them on such matters? There is so much more they could be doing to communicate clearly with their members. They should be doing everything they can to alleviate fears. We’re talking about people’s health insurance – their access to affordable prescription medicines – and their financial well being. BCBSNC needs to stop worry about covering its ass, and start spending all of its energy on communicating clearly and managing expectations. It is now January 27th and my wife and stepdaughter still don’t have health insurance. And there is no light at the end of the tunnel – no end in sight. This is because what equates to a big monopoly made a tragic business decision and is now more interested in saving face than in helping its members through this difficult time. In this day of digital communication, BCBSNC has the ability to reach out to its members, assure them that this will be fixed, give a detailed timeline and explanation of the changes they are making, and be transparent. Brad Wilson should be speaking to customers via video on BCBS’ Facebook page with daily updates. “Here’s the progress we made today. Here’s how many issues we resolved. We took 30,000 inbound calls. We reached out to 5,000 customers with return calls. Here are the problems we ran into and how we’re addressing them. The computer system was down for 90 minutes.” This should happen every day until this situation is resolved! BCBSNC’s handling of this situation is so disappointing, to say the least.