Health plans storm the banking biz

Hoping to make CDHPs more palatable--and to profit on deposits, of course--the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association is moving to expand the reach of its Blue Healthcare Bank. The bank allows BCBS members to establish health savings accounts, then use debit cards or checks to access HSA dollars. The idea is to make it simpler for consumers to use and track their HSA funds, while saving them the trouble of waiting for reimbursement checks. This, in turn, makes CDHPs more acceptable to consumers, something the Blues' big employer customers will like.

If the BCBS plans can make this work, they can steal a very significant business away from traditional financial institutions. Right now large, traditional banks are expected to pick up 40 percent of the HSA market, but with its captive audience, Blue Healthcare Bank could eat their lunch. However, Blue Healthcare's ability to do so may hinge on how quickly it can get programs in place. Right now, BCBS plan members in Arkansas, Michigan, Idaho and South Carolina have access. BCBS of Kansas City members will be able to join as of January 2008, and the bank plans to offer services to members in as many as a dozen BCBS plans by the end of 2007.

To find out more about the Blues' banking plans:
- read this Kansas City Business Journal item