Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana and Health Care Services Corporation reached a new agreement to obtain a state recommendation for their proposed merger.
Under the deal with the Montana state auditor's office, the two insurers will create at least 100 new jobs and work to keep health costs low. HCSC also will pay premium taxes on business generated in Montana, amounting to about $12 million each year, the Billings Gazette reported.
Moreover, HCSC agreed the almost 450 current Blue Cross employees would retain their jobs after the merger, reported MTN News.
"We did our best to try to stand up for the consumers, and I think we succeeded in that," said Jesse Laslovich, chief counsel for State Auditor Monica Lindeen. "We've been working diligently for the past two weeks to try to get from the companies: What is in this for the consumer?"
Blue Cross and HCSC announced a proposed alliance last fall that includes HCSC paying $40 million to Blue Cross so it could gain necessary resources to compete in the post-reform market. But Lindeen has questioned whether the merger would actually benefit Montana consumers. She has been negotiating with both insurers to obtain certain assurances to protect the state and its consumers.
John MacDonald, a spokesman for the insurers, said Blue Cross and HCSC welcome the new agreement. "We believe this alliance is right for Montana. It means strength in numbers, innovative customer service technologies and controlling the rise of premium costs for families and small businesses," he said, according to the Helena Independent Record.
The deal now goes to the hearing examiner, who will make a recommendation on the proposed merger.