News: CJ Exclusives

Health care costs at center of debate in race for state treasurer

Hometown Debate Series with N.C. Treasurer Dale Folwell, left, Spectrum's Loretta Boniti, and Democrat candidate Ronnie Chatterji. (Spectrum News screenshot)
Hometown Debate Series with N.C. Treasurer Dale Folwell, left, Spectrum's Loretta Boniti, and Democrat candidate Ronnie Chatterji. (Spectrum News screenshot)

Taxes and employee benefits are at the center of the race for N.C. treasurer.

Republican incumbent Dale Folwell and Democrat Ronnie Chatterji are clashing over the future of the state’s finances, including its $108 billion pension fund and health plan. 

The candidates met recently as part of the 2020 Hometown Debate Series with Spectrum News and hosted by the nonprofit N.C. Institute of Political Leadership. 

North Carolina’s State Health Plan is in trouble. 

With $35 billion in unfunded liabilities, the State Health Plan risks going broke in three years. Without reforms, the rising cost of health care will leech more money from taxpayers or shave benefits from state employees. 

Folwell promised to save the plan with his Clear Pricing Project, a push for price transparency that tethered payments to Medicare rates. He has described the current plan as a blank check to hospitals, written by a state that “didn’t have a clue” what it was spending.

His Clear Pricing Project projected savings of $166 million for taxpayers and another $34 million for plan members. Folwell offered to pay hospitals almost twice what Medicare offers. 

Almost every hospital refused. 

And it was the fate of Folwell’s reforms that dominated the debate. 

The N.C. Hospital Association endorsed Chatterji. He’s a tenured Duke University business and public policy professor who served on an economic advisory board to President Obama.

“The problem I’m attacking is the runaway cost and secrecy of health care,” Folwell said. “The hospital association is intent on the cartelization of health care across this state.”

Folwell has battled the hospital association over transparent pricing for months. 

Hospitals responded, saying Folwell risks ruining rural health care. UNC Health Care funded attack ads against Folwell in a dark money scandal. Cone Health’s Assistant Director of Finance, Frank Kauder, advised the State Health Plan’s Board of Treasurers to “burn in hell, you sons of b*****s,”  in an email.

The State Employees Association of N.C. leapt into the fight — including MillionDollarMike.com, a website slamming Dr. Michael Waldrum, CEO of Vidant Health. 

SEANC has endorsed Folwell. 

Chatterji called Folwell’s plan a failure that “never got off the ground, did not work … and would probably fail again.” He often focused on coverage rather than costs. He advocated for Medicaid expansion. 

Folwell referred to 168 redacted pages that UNC Health sent him when he asked to see what the state was shelling out for health care. 

“Let’s tell the viewers what’s really going on,” Folwell said. “These are nonprofits that have billions in the bank and their whole mode of business is secrecy.”

Chatterji slammed Folwell for his approach to the virus and supported Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive orders. 

But Folwell, who had the virus and recovered, continued to push Cooper to reopen businesses and “flatten the economic curve.”

“This COVID-19 has the potential for creating and widening an economic inequality, the likes of which I’ve never seen,” Folwell said. 

This was the fourth and final debate of this election’s Hometown Debate series. None had studio audiences, because of COVID-19 concerns.

The series sponsors are AARP-North Carolina, the State Employees Association of North Carolina, Humana, the North Carolina Sheriffs Association, and the Independent Insurance Agents of North Carolina.

Segments were broadcast on Sunday, Oct. 11, on Spectrum News NC’s “In Focus with Loretta Boniti.”