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Ex-county manager probe triggers more disclosures: Economic development spending raises questions
Tuesday, 05 December 2017 01:06

From Staff Reports 

Economic development expenditures are now being brought into question as the Asheville Citizen-Times continues to spearhead a probe of why former Buncombe County Manager Wanda Greene may be under federal investigation.

The latest disclosures indicate the county spent $577,116 to support the Tryon International Equestrian Center. All but $897 of the total came from the county’s economic development incentives fund.

 While it is a common practice for counties to wine and dine executives to lure business to their tax bases, the payments were made to a Polk County enterprise owned by Mark Bellissimo. The Tryon Equestrian Center, billed as an economic engine, cost $125 million to build and runs with a $31 million operating budget. 

The county paid $276,427 directly to the equestrian center, $150,689 to Equestrian Sport Productions, and $150,000 to The Chronical of the Horse. All businesses are owned by Bellissimo. The former is an equestrian center based in Wellington, Florida; the latter, a magazine headquartered in Virginia.

Greene had explained the expenses were a promotion for the Asheville Regional Airport.

Mission spokesperson Rowena Buffett Timms issued similar comments in mid-November, noting, “We have previously said that we were not going to comment, and we continue to refrain from comment.”

The two parties have clashed over rates. 

The agreement that was terminated Oct 5 set rates for how much Blue Cross paid Mission for caring for the 260,000 people in Western North Carolina that the insurer covers.

The termination of the contract means most people with BCBSNC insurance are having to pay more for services from Mission doctors, hospitals and other Mission health care facilities — or get care elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Blue Cross set up a website titled “Know the Facts About Mission Health’s Decision to Leave Blue Cross...” on Nov. 1. The aforementioned Blue Cross website states:

“Since Mission Health decided to remove its doctors and hospitals from our network, the system has been aggressive in blaming Blue Cross NC for the choice it made. Their latest tactic is to intentionally use misleading data to justify their demands for higher payments from our customer.

“Mission Health demanded increases in the fees we pay them. This makes premiums and out-of-pocket costs higher for our customers. We work hard to keep health care and health insurance costs as low as possible, and most of the hospitals in our state share this goal. We’re disappointed Mission is canceling their contract instead of working with us to keep things as affordable as possible for our customers. 

“As a result, Mission Health facilities are out-of-network. This includes hospitals, outpatient facilities, and most healthcare providers.

“Mission Health is the only North Carolina health system leaving the Blue Cross NC network. Here are some things you need to know about this change.”

The web posting also addressed the following points in answer to what it termed frequently asked questions about Mission Health:

• “It was Mission Health’s decision.

• “Mission Health refuses to slow the increase of health care costs

• “Higher fees for Mission Health mean higher costs for custiomers.

• “Blue Cross customers should not have to pad Mission Health’s margins.

• “Some Blue Cross NC customers will still be able to use Mission Health facilities.”

To that last point, the BCBSNC posting noted that “customers already in a treatment plan for certain conditions such as cancer treatment or maternity care at a Mission Health facility may be able to keep receiving treatments as part of our Continuity of Care program. (BCBSNC will work to identify members who may qualify for this program, and they will get a separate letter from us.)

“And emergency care is always covered as an in-network benefit. In the case of an emergency, Blue Cross NC customers should go to the nearest hospital. Prior authorization is never required for emergency care.”

Blue Cross NC provider information is available at  For insurance information: or call 1-800-446-8053.

Mission has set up the following website with information on the dispute:

For patient questions, Mission has asked to be called at 417-0480.



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