Beware the Schadenfreude

The chief executive for Blue Cross and Blue Shield for North Carolina has resigned, following an arrest for drunk driving earlier this summer.  Dr. Patrick Conway, “a prominent federal official before he came to Blue Cross of North Carolina two years ago,” was spotted weaving between lanes, and he sideswiped a tractor-trailer.  His two children were in the car with him. 

While initially asking him to stay on as CEO and president, his corporate board has now forced his resignation after “new details came to light.” 

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Maybe you’re thinking, “Yeah, stick it to the bastard!!  He endangered others and his kids, bury him!”  Yep, we can all agree that this is a screwup of major degree that could well have gotten a lot of innocents killed.  I can’t see how losing his job makes any of that better, but it’s not my company.  What changed the board’s mind?  Police notes and video tape indicate that upon his arrest, “Dr. Conway cursed at officers and threatened to call the state’s governor.”  He is recorded to have said, “You had a choice. You could have let me go. You don’t know who I am. I am a doctor, a CO (sic) of a company. I’ll call Governor [Roy] Cooper and get you in trouble.”  Hoo boy, that must have been a PR nightmare the BCBS board was anxious to quell.  I guess being drunk AND fussy with the cops will get you fired from a prominent company, even if the board thinks you’re doing a swell job.


Maybe the board figured (and I’m speculating here) that this was a personal mess, being handled by the courts, that did not occur on company time, and was none of their business.

If that was the case (and I stress “IF”), then why the sudden corporate about face and heave ho?

“The insurer’s board took action after North Carolina Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey asked for the resignation. Earlier on Wednesday, Mr. Causey said he couldn’t accept the executive’s belligerent behavior toward police described in their detailed report, saying it showed ‘a total lack of professionalism and utter disregard and disdain’ for the officers.”  So a junk bureaucrat got involved, and made this individual’s behavior a matter of state concern beyond the obvious legal involvement already prescribed by law.  Why? 

“Mr. Causey, the state insurance regulator, had publicly faulted the board for not obtaining the detailed police report earlier. At a news conference Wednesday, Mr. Causey stepped up his criticism of the board, describing the handling of the accident as a ‘cover-up’ and condemning ‘the lack of respect for oversight and regulation of a company.’”  What business of BCBS should be a single drunk-driving charge by a high-level employee, beyond whatever marketing hit they might perceive?  Shouldn’t it be their business?

Is Causey a spirited public servant engaging in a noble effort to protect the public?  If so, how, beyond the police officers who already clearly removed a threat from the road?  Or is Causey another carrion eater in administrative clothing, dining on the disasters of others while engaging in ostentatious moralizing over the indefensible act of a private citizen not engaged in activities covered by the North Carolina state insurance regulators?  Or does North Carolina statue actually empower its bureaucrats to do double-duty as law enforcement officers with the mandate to inflict as much concurrent punishment as possible for any and all infractions?


What if Causey is a cynical politician responding to external pressures, with an eye to his own political fortunes, bolstering useful relationships for future self-aggrandizement? 

“The developments have disrupted a widely-watched deal for the North Carolina insurer to combine with another regional Blue, Cambia Health Solutions, based in Oregon. Progress toward the combination was halted Tuesday, with Cambia citing ‘deeply troubling’ emerging details of the arrest.

The insurance commissioner in Washington state, where Cambia has a large presence, criticized the handling of Mr. Conway’s arrest and dubbed it secretive and unacceptable behavior. Regulators in Oregon, where Cambia is based, and Idaho, where it has a large policyholder base, also criticized the delayed notification they received.”  Since when did the Washington state insurance commissioner’s jurisdiction extend to traffic safety and corporate policy in a state over 1,500 miles away?  That goes a bit beyond a high-speed chase sliding over the state line in heated pursuit.

What if the charge had been for solicitation, or tax fraud, or fishing without a license?  It does not trivialize the offense of impaired driving to ask, where does this end?  Why does any involvement with health care give the government extra powers to threaten and harm the individual?  Dr. Conway has been properly charged with a potential criminal traffic violation, and will have his day in court on October 8.  Is he a bad guy?  Quite probably, given that he is an insurance CEO, but beyond that I have no idea.  As much fun as it would seem to gloat over a fat-cat Big Insurance CEO being destroyed, we should not do so.  This stinks of Big Insurance using equally soulless, flea-festered bureaucrats and the power of government to squash an individual via the hammer of crony corporatism.  We should look past the irony, remembering that Big Government and Big Insurance are each, in their own spheres, anti-individual and cruel.  When they cooperate, it only worsens the threat for all of us. 

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Pat Conrad MD

Pat Conrad is a full-time rural ER doc on the Florida Gulf Coast. After serving as a carrier naval flight officer, he graduated from the University of Florida College of Medicine, and the Tallahassee Family Medicine residency program. His commentary has appeared in Medical Economics and at . Conrad’s work stresses individual freedom and autonomy as the crucial foundation for medical excellence, is wary of all collective solutions, and recognizes that the vast majority of poisonous snakebites are concurrent with alcohol consumption.

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4 Responses

  1. Rick says:

    Pat, what an incredibly thoughtful and reasoned narrative. I thank you for that. Gives us all a perspective that might have escaped us.

  2. R Stuart says:

    “Mr. Causey said he couldn’t accept the executive’s belligerent behavior toward police described in their detailed report”

    Belligerent behavior towards practicing physicians – no problem.

  3. Bill Ameen, MD says:

    Being a resident of NC I applaud the actions of the Insurance Commissioner for pushing the corrupt BCBS for getting rid of this bum, albeit months late. Incidentally, he was a hospitalist, which movement IMHO is a hugely contributing cause for high health-care costs (e.g., every hospital with over 50 beds that hasn’t closed has at least two or more hospitalists each making $250,000 or more a year; when primary-care doctors took care of their patients in-hospital it didn’t cost the hospitals anything).

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