A BCBSA executive discussed the goals of the new program and how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the desire among employers to pursue HPNs.
Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) launched its high performance network (HPN) named "Blue HPN" this month across more than 55 markets.
In late 2019, Jennifer Atkins, vice president of network solutions at Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, spoke with HealthLeaders about Blue HPN and how it will act as an extension of the insurer's more than 74 million-member base.
Last month, HealthLeaders followed up with Atkins ahead of the launch of Blue HPN to discuss the goals of the new program and how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the desire among employers to pursue HPNs.
This transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity.
HealthLeaders: How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the launch of Blue HPN?
Atkins: It's been interesting because I think we made some assumptions once COVID hit about how things would look and it continues to surprise me every day. We were able to launch with 55 major markets across the country and 45 employers starting January 1, 2021. In the employee range, which doesn't include members or their dependents, we anticipate around 150,000 potential employees will have a choice within their benefit plan for Blue HPN. We've just come through that open enrollment period and had a strong year, and we were able to launch in more markets than we had originally anticipated.
HL: Since we last spoke at the end of 2019, how have some of the economic dynamics altered your business strategy as it relates to Blue HPN?
Atkins: [The economic changes] haven't altered our strategy, and in fact, it's probably made it more robust. We are seeing a couple of different things. Some employers don't want to disrupt their employees further because of the nature of the pandemic and everything that everybody's gone through this year. In those cases, you're seeing HPNs offered side-by-side to a traditional PPO, so employees still have that choice.
The other thing we saw was a strong interest in Blue HPN because of the double-digit cost savings. We're averaging 11% [savings] across the entire network and, in some markets, as high as 20%. In a constrained economy where employers are concerned about finances, this is a strong option for them. Even if they didn't choose it for their employees in 2021, a lot of groundwork has been laid for future conversations and opportunities to include that in their benefit designs because of the savings.
Beyond that, there's been an absolute explosion in the use of telehealth and virtual care. We're seeing that across all of our network programs, not just Blue HPN, and we're expecting members will be accessing virtual care services. From an access perspective, that's always an important component to ensure people have what they need in their network.
HL: From your perspective, how has your view on value-based care changed throughout the pandemic?
Atkins: In a broad national view, what we're seeing are providers who have participated or were participating in value-based agreements heading into the pandemic seem to have fared better financially in some of their agreements because they had contracts that were constructed around those value-based principles that weren't so closely aligned or tied to fee-for-service.
We're also seeing that those agreements enable deeper alignment between our local plans and the providers to have those types of conversations when something like a pandemic comes up.
To hit on the topic of virtual care again, in the context of a value-based agreement with the health system or a clinically integrated network, [it's important] to have a touchpoint like virtual care. In the context of that value-based agreement, that continues to ensure that members have access to that care in a low-cost, easy-to-use way. That [also] allows that provider to most effectively use their resources.
HL: Say that we speak again in December 2021, what would your expectations be for Blue HPN?
Atkins: We'll have come through another national accounts sales cycle by then and we're gearing up now for a robust RFP season. We're expecting employers who may have held off making decisions this past year or just received information and didn't act on it to use 2021 as a potential decision-making year. So, I see  as a strong opportunity for [BCBS].
The other thing that I would look forward to talking to you about in the future is what our evolution on quality has been. From its very inception, Blue HPN has been designed with a focus on quality. We're working hard, to provide actionable insights to our plans around their existing agreements and how we can continue to move those quality conversations forward with providers on things that are mutually important. Important in the local market, to the provider, and then ultimately to benefit the members. I think we'll have a lot of interesting things to catch up on.
Jack O'Brien is the Content Team Lead and Finance Editor at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.
Photo credit: MINNEAPOLIS, MN/USA - MARCH 19, 2017: Blue Cross Blue Shield exterior and logo. Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) is a federation of health insurance organizations and companies. - Image / Editorial credit: Ken Wolter / Shutterstock.com