When the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) announced its member plans were launching a nationwide high-performance network, COVID-19 was not in the discussion.
Despite the pandemic, Blues plans saw notable interest in the plan design that officially launched Jan. 1 as employers sought ways to curb spending while maintaining access to high-quality care, officials said. BCBSA said 45 companies have signed on to offer the Blue HPN plan to employees, reaching 55 markets and 340,000 potential members.
The plan is the only HPN available in the 10 largest U.S. cities, BCBSA said.
Jennifer Atkins, vice president of global network solutions at BCBSA, told Fierce Healthcare that even in its early days, Blue HPN has found success in lowering costs for employers. The HPN plan saved 11% in the total cost of care compared to a traditional PPO, she said.
In some markets, that figure reached 20% in savings, Atkins said.
While the pandemic did prevent many employers from overhauling their benefits, BCBSA is expecting those who may not have had the bandwidth to think about new benefit options due to COVID-19 to take a second look heading into the 2022 plan year.
"I think there’s a lot of interest in looking at a potential solution that really focuses in on the quality as well as the cost savings," she said.
"Strong (request for proposal) activity really did continue throughout the pandemic in 2020," Atkins added. "What's interesting about that too is we had a lot of employers who looked at it and were interested in it as a tool, but 2020 just wasn’t the right year just given all of the uncertainty in the market as well all of the uncertainty just even in their own employee population about overlaying another change."
Even prior to COVID-19, employers were seeking new ways to rethink their benefit designs, aiming to avoid further shifting costs to workers. That includes adopting HPNs, direct contracting and other novel approaches as alternatives to bloating deductibles and premiums.
Atkins said one of the key focuses in the early launch of Blue HPN has been ensuring members can easily and effectively navigate their benefits.
That means both supporting members in navigating their care as well as supporting employers as they assist workers in finding the benefits that work best for them, she said.
"I think we’re starting to see any time you put another option in for an employee, it’s a choice," she said. "So how do you help an employee navigate that choice?"