Blues plans are expected to stake a significant claim across the public HIX landscape at a time when other large health insurance carriers such as UnitedHealth Group, Aetna and Cigna have been cautious about where to dispatch boots on the ground in this emerging online marketplace.

The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) has joined forces with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to offer options in 30 states and the District of Columbia that are part of the Multi-State Plan (MSP) under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). That effort was intended to broaden the number of choices for consumers shopping in the public exchanges.

The partnership isn’t particularly surprising, considering that Blues plans account for more than 60% of enrollment in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, the nation’s largest employer-sponsored health insurance program at more than eight million employees, retirees and dependents.

“This builds on our strong working relationship with OPM in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, where we provide the most popular plans for federal employees, retirees and their families,” according to a statement issued by BCBSA.

The association went on to report that Blues plans are “working around the clock on health reform implementation and are participating in virtually every state across the country. The multi-state option is a way we are offering coverage to our customers on the new exchange marketplaces.”

Avalere CEO Dan Mendelson recently told The New York Times: “The Blues are very well positioned. They have great name recognition. They have a very strong understanding of the local market because they have been operating there forever.”

Under its federal contract, BCBSA will offer more than 150 discounted products featuring a national network of doctors and hospitals. The Obama Administration hopes to offer at least two multistate plans in each state by 2017. Although five additional carriers have expressed interest in this arrangement, the only application approved thus far is with BCBSA.

Proponents of the MSP argue that they will boost competition, especially where one or two carriers dominate a local market. New Hampshire and West Virginia are examples of states whose public HIX would have had just one carrier in 2014 without an MSP option.

Rounding out the states that will offer an MSP next year are Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

Bruce Shutan is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer.

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