Partners moves all employees from BCBS to its own health plan

Boston-based Partners HealthCare will shift health insurance coverage for all of its employees from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts to its system-owned health plan, according to The Boston Globe.

The transition of coverage will affect about 100,000 people and nearly double the membership of Partners' Neighborhood Health Plan. The transition is expected to occur Jan. 1, 2019.

Partners officials emphasized that health benefits will not change for employees and that some out-of-pocket costs may decrease under the Neighborhood Health Plan. In addition, 98 percent of the physicians Partners employees now see in the BCBS network are included in the system-owned plan.

"We're evaluating the impact of this," said Tim Foley, executive vice president of 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, the union that represents thousands of Partners  employees, according to The Globe. "It seems their goals and intentions are good: that people still have the same plans and coverage that they had before."

The health system spends $830 million on employee healthcare costs per year, and the transition to Neighborhood Health Plan will slash those expenses by $10 million to $15 million annually, it said.  Under the plan, co-pays for primary care visits are expected to drop from $15 to $10 per visit.

Rosemary Sheehan, chief human resources officer for Partners, said by moving health benefits in-house, the health system can launch new programs to benefit employees, including ones to provide stress relief and navigators to help employees find providers.

"Any change to health benefits at all creates anxiety," Ms. Sheehan told The Globe. "The way we're handling that is by really providing a lot of resources."

The move comes as a blow to BCBS, which counted Partners as one of its biggest accounts and had been administering employee health benefits for the Boston-based health system for more than 20 years.

The 2.8 million-member BCBS of Massachusetts told The Globe it was disappointed but not surprised by Partners' decision.

 "Partners let us know a year ago that this was a possibility, and we understand that they are in the process of trying to reposition NHP from a Medicaid plan to a commercial plan," a BCBS spokesperson said.

Any health system employee or family member who needs care outside Massachusetts can use Aetna's national network.

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