Blues plans team up with U.K. firm to expand global network

The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association has partnered with Bupa, a London-based healthcare group covering 14 million people. Effective later this year, the partnership will create "the largest healthcare provider network in the world for international health insurance customers," the coalition of 37 independent Blue Cross and Blue Shield licensees recently announced.

This network may help BCBSA companies build their international customer base and better contend with the global businesses of insurers such as UnitedHealth and and Cigna, Bloomberg reported.      

The partnership will include more than 11,500 hospitals and about 750,000 practitioners in more than 190 countries. It also involves Bupa's purchase of a 49 percent stake in Highway to Health, Inc. (HTH), the Blue Cross-owned company that sells GeoBlue international health insurance products, BCBSA noted. 

Both organizations cited global mobility trends creating unique health insurance needs for expatriate workers and large employers. Recent study results predict a 50 percent spike in worldwide business travel and work assignments abroad by 2020, Bloomberg noted.

"We know that people are becoming increasingly globally mobile--either to live, study or simply travel abroad for long periods of time--and travel insurance doesn't always provide the coverage they need or expect," Robert Lang, managing director of the Bupa Global Market Unit, said in the announcement. "We're responding by creating the biggest global provider network for people who require international health coverage, and other propositions will follow later this year."

Massive network growth resulting from the BCBSA's international partnership contrasts sharply with shrinking provider networks in the United States, which typify plans available under the Affordable Care Act. Although regulators in some states are blocking payer efforts to thin provider networks in response to public outcry, as FierceHealthPayer reported, cost-conscious marketplace shoppers may accept the trade-off of less choice for lower premiums.

For more:
- here's the BCBSA announcement
- see the Bloomberg article

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