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Treasurer says covert plan foiled; agency says there was no ‘secret plan’

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(The Center Square) – His strategy was to shift the NCFlex enrollment program from the existing platform to a contract with the UNC System without notifying the State Health Plan for Teachers and State Employees.

That’s required through a memorandum of agreement with the State Health Plan, and Gov. Roy Cooper’s move with the Office of State Human Resources has been rejected by state Treasurer Dale Folwell.

Folwell said in an Ask Me Anything call with the media on Tuesday the move would endanger the provision of health benefits to thousands of teachers and public employees statewide. The Office of State Human Resources currently contracts for NCFlex enrollment with the vendor BenefitFocus through the State Health Plan, paying the plan a fee as part of the arrangement.

“We had no knowledge this was going on,” Folwell said. “I don’t know what problem they’re trying to solve.”

The Republican treasurer learned of the Democratic governor’s intent to shift the Office of State Human Resources’ NCFlex enrollment program away from the existing platform about two weeks ago, he said.

“We did not hear about it from OSHR, we heard about it from multiple third parties … calling us asking what is this all about,” Folwell said.

Melody Hunter-Pillion with the Office of State Human Resources, in an email to The Center Square on Tuesday, said there was no “secret plan” and the intent is to make enrollment better and save taxpayer money.

The NCFlex plans, which offer supplemental benefits to cover things like pretax child care, vision, dental, and accident insurance, are aligned on a calendar year basis, and the planned shift to the new system in mid-2024 would “torpedo the open enrollment process” the State Health Plan has worked to streamline over the last seven years, Folwell said.

The transition would also wreak havoc on the State Health Plan’s work to transition from BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina to Aetna for its third party administrator next year.

“To create chaos and to do so in such a secretive way is something OSHR … and Governor Cooper need to answer for,” Folwell said, adding that state agencies were required to sign confidentiality agreements to shield the move from the treasurer’s office.

Melody Hunter-Pillion with the Office of State Human Resources contends the potential shift to the UNC System and its vendor Empyrean “could provide a better enrollment experience to state employees and save taxpayer dollars.”

“OSHR has been talking with stakeholders, including the UNC System, Empyrean, and the State Health Plan, to gather information and explore options,” she wrote in an email to The Center Square. “There is no secret plan and no change is imminent.”

Hunter-Pillion wrote the Office of State Human Resources “looks forward to discussing details of any change with the State Health Plan before any plans are finalized.

“That discussion will include the best time for NCFlex and the State Health Plan to transition between vendors,” she wrote.

In the meantime, officials are awaiting a response from the Office of State Human Resources to a Nov. 14 letter from the State Health Plan outlining objections to the move, noting the plan has “met and surpassed … legal obligations” outlined in a memorandum of understanding.

“Unfortunately, OSHR has not shown the same spirit of partnership and compliance with its legal obligations in its current actions to implement a unilateral and surreptitious mid-year transition of NCFlex enrollment to Empyrean,” the letter read.

The letter contends the department is in breach of its agreement with the State Health Plan by failing to provide notice and coordinate on the transition. The agreement gives the Office of State Human Resources 30 days from the date of the letter to cure the breach.

“If OSHR cures its breach, the Plan is willing to develop a transition plan to enable OSHR to enroll NCFlex benefits on the Empyrean platform during open enrollment for 2025; however, NCFlex enrollment will remain on the Benefitfocus platform for 2024,” the letter read.

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