Chicago - Blue Cross Blue Shield's vision for rounding out its consumer-driven products initiative took a giant leap forward today with the announcement of a new bank to help BCBS companies provide its customers with more technical tools and greater financial options to manage how they direct their healthcare spending.

Upon regulatory approval, Blue Healthcare Bank will support the administration of FSAs and HRAs and the custody of HSA deposits, including payment of qualified medical expenses through debit card or check, Web site access and various overdraft protections.

"Our goal is a system which simplifies the vast information available in healthcare and puts it in the hands of consumers and providers," said Scott Serota, BCBSA's president and CEO. "This will strengthen and facilitate collaboration between patients and providers to improve quality and efficiency."

The announcement follows closely a co-branding deal made in November with VISA that specifies support for participating Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies nationwide offering their members co-branded debit cards to pay for healthcare related expenses. The Blue-branded Visa debit card will allow customers to pay for qualified medical expenses by providing them with access to their health plan personal savings accounts.

"For people to truly have the power to make care decisions based on quality and cost, we must provide them with the tools to do so," Serota said. "Consumers want to be able to do things like track account information and manage healthcare assets. We are developing this bank to provide consumers with a simple consolidated financial support, seamlessly integrated with a traditional health plan."

BCBS maintains that 57% of employers say they are considering consumer-driven products. Industry experts project total enrollment in consumer-driven products to eclipse 20 million by 2008. Collectively, about 70 million members of participating BCBS companies could benefit from Blue Healthcare Bank.

Blue Healthcare Bank will facilitate administrative and financial support for BCBS companies and their members enrolled in consumer directed health plans (CDHPs) or in health savings accounts (HSAs), health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) and flexible spending accounts (FSAs).

"It's important for the Blues to offer consumers a complete line of healthcare services, and in the area of consumer-directed healthcare, that means strong financial services," said Richard J. Hale, president and CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Mississippi and chairman of the BCBSA board of directors. "For customers of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Mississippi, as well as Blue Plans nationwide, we see Blue Healthcare Bank as an important resource to help our members, employers and providers make critical health-related financial information work for them."

Chicago-based Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association is made up of 39 independent, locally operated Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies that collectively provide healthcare coverage for more than 93 million - nearly one-in-three - Americans.

Source: The Blue Cross Blue Shield Assn.

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