HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana will become part of the nation's fourth-largest health insurer, Chicago-based Health Care Service Corp., the heads of the two companies said Monday.
The deal, which the companies are calling an "alliance," is subject to regulatory approval, which will determine the company's final form.
HCSC has 13 million members in Blue Cross Blue Shield plans in Illinois, Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico. Blue Cross Blue Shield is Montana's largest insurer with 272,000 members.
Mike Frank, the president and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana, said the partnership will allow the Montana company to save money and give it access to cutting-edge technology. The company will keep its name, he said.
HCSC president and CEO Patricia Hemingway Hall said members should not see any significant changes.
"Things are going to look and feel pretty much the same," she said.
Frank and Hemingway Hall said they will go through the state attorney general's office and the insurance commissioner for regulatory approval. Neither state agency has received any filings from the companies regarding the deal.
"Certainly, we will do whatever we can under the law to make sure the interest of Montana consumers is represented. Until we get hard documents, we don't know what that entails," said Lucas Hamilton, spokesman for Commissioner of Securities and Insurance Monica Lindeen.
Attorney General Steve Bullock noted in a statement the small number of Montanans insured by Blue Cross compared with the overall membership of HCSC, and said he will focus on how the deal will affect state members in determining whether it is in the public interest.
Frank said the details of the alliance are still in the early planning stages but pledged the process will be open and transparent. He said he and Hemingway Hall decided to announce the alliance now because that was when they were informing Blue Cross employees, who will become HCSC workers under the deal.
Frank said later through a spokesman that no jobs will be lost. The company also said it is too early to comment on whether any Blue Cross Blue Shield offices in Montana will be closed.
Frank and Hemingway Hall were later questioned by Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who sought their assurances that the company was not on a path toward full privatization.
Hemingway Hall said HCSC is "firmly committed to our not-for-profit status."
Schweitzer noted that if Blue Cross Blue Shield becomes part of HCSC, it would have to start paying a premium tax, which it doesn't have to now as a licensed health services corporation. That could amount to $10-$12 million, company officials estimated.
Frank said the company the alliance is favorable even with the additional taxes, because it will save tens of millions of dollars in technology upgrades, and those technology costs will only continue.
The governor suggested the company disclose what happened to premiums and services when HCSC took over Blue Cross plans in other states.
HCSC was created in the 1970s with the merger of the Chicago-based Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans, according to the company's website.
It merged with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas in 1998, acquired Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico in 2001 and merged with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma in 2005.