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Blue Cross and Blue Shield Puts Bank Up for Sale

Les Masterson, for HealthLeaders Media, August 14, 2009

Blue Cross and Blue Shield's attempt at a healthcare bank appears to be coming to an end with the company's announcement that it is looking to sell Blue Healthcare Bank.

The bank, which offers healthcare banking through health savings accounts (HSAs), organized in 2006 and received a Federal Savings Bank charter in 2007.

The bank offers HSAs to Blue Cross and/or Blue Shield members that are in qualifying health plans.

According to its Web site, the bank "combines healthcare experience with banking expertise in collaboration with the trusted Blue Cross and/or Blue Shield Plans. The bank delivers excellence in healthcare financial products and services for the growing consumer-driven healthcare (CDH) market."

When the Office of Thrift Supervision approved the bank's application for a Federal Savings Bank charter in 2007, Scott P. Serota, BCBSA president and CEO, said, "More and more Americans are taking greater control of their healthcare choices by enrolling in consumer-directed health plans (CDHPs), such as health savings accounts (HSAs). As this trend continues, consumers will be in greater need of reliable financial services. The Blue Healthcare Bank responds by providing consumers with access to a trusted and secure financial resource to help them efficiently manage their healthcare dollars."

Now, just two years later, Blue Cross has decided to seek a seller for the bank. But company officials say this doesn't mean the plans are stepping away from consumer-driven healthcare.

Nevertheless, the news is still a negative for the consumerism movement. Trumpeted by Republicans and the Bush administration as a way to bring down costs because members would have more "skin in the game," HSAs have fallen out of favor in Washington with Democrats in control of the White House and Congress.

Though the future of HSAs and consumer-directed health plans are "somewhat unclear," Martin Trussell, senior vice president at First Horizon Msaver, an HSA provider, says he believes CDHPs will remain—even after healthcare reform—because President Barack Obama and Congress have promised that Americans will be able to keep their current health insurance.

"Uncertainty about healthcare reform may have factored into the decision to sell the Blue Bank assets," he says. "But added to that is an economy that has reduced health plan enrollments and thus revenues and the fact that the bank was a latecomer to an industry where referral patterns have been pretty well established. The Blues plans apparently had no appetite for making the further investments necessary for the bank to reach the critical mass of accounts it would need to be self-sustainable."

Les Masterson is an editor for HealthLeaders Media.

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