A top-level official with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana was in Havre this week with representatives of the Montana Chamber of Commerce, giving details on a proposal to merge the state’s nonprofit insurance company with another multi-state insurer.
“We believe that this is probably the most important thing that’s ever going to happen to our plan, ” said Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana Chief Financial Officer Mark Burzynski. “I believe in my career I will never do anything more important … than making this happen, because I think it will change things fundamentally for Montanans and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana.
“I believe it is the only way (Blue Cross of Montana) will see another 72 years, ” Burzynski added.
Burzynski was traveling across north-central Montana with Chamber representatives on this leg of the entity’s “Giving Thanks” tour.
He said the proposed merger with Health Care Service Corporation — Blue Cross filed its paperwork with the state attorney general and commissioner of insurance Thursday requesting approval of the deal — is not a result of the health care reform, although that has implications in the merger’s benefits.
The main purpose is to spread the costs of providing health insurance to Montanans across a larger pool, reducing duplicative efforts and, potentially, bringing more states as well as lower-cost insurance to Montana, Burzynski said.
As an example, he said, a few years ago Blue Cross had a client with $6.5 million in claims, and a couple more with $2 million to $3 million each. That would mean spreading the cost of paying nearly $11 million in claims among Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana’s clients, now 274,000 people. That would require a significant premium increase, or else finding 18,600 new members who did not file claims — something that is not possible with Montana’s population, he said.
Merging with HCSC, which is the largest nonprofit insurance company in the country, consisting of the Blue Cross companies of Illinois, Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico, will help spread the risk and provide stability in Montana’s health insurance premiums, Burzynski said.
HCSC has 13.5 million clients with $50 billion in annual premiums, he said.
The service also should improve, with calls going to representatives in the state that has the fewest calls on queue, and with the time differential, should increase the time representatives are available, he said.
That also could translate to new Montana jobs, Burzynski said. He said in Texas alone, the number of offices since its Blue Cross merged has grown from one to 17, and the number of HCSC employees has grown by 20 percent in the last five years.
When discussing the proposal Gov. Brian Schweitzer, Attorney General Steve Bullock and insurance commissioner Monica Lindeen asked company officials if the merger would cost Montana jobs, Burzynski said.
“I would have rephrased the question …, ” he said. “How many of these (jobs) can you bring to Montana? We are hoping that, possibly Montana will become a growth place (for the company.) ”