Return $160M from Blue Cross sale to businesses

2013-05-15T08:15:00Z Return $160M from Blue Cross sale to businessesGuest column by JIM EDWARDS and RICHARD MILTENBERGER missoulian.com

Montana’s businesses are the primary sources of good-paying, new jobs in Montana’s economy. Despite improving economic circumstances, the Montana businesses with whom we work every day – small- and mid-size employers – continue to need financial resources to reinvest into their businesses, helping to grow our economy and create more good paying jobs. They could really use a shot in the arm.

We have an idea that is so simple, we think it will work.

The state of Montana will soon approve the sale of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana to Healthcare Service Corporation of Chicago – one of the nation’s largest health insurance companies. This is an unfortunate, but necessary, development. In fact, we testified in favor of the sale.

As part of this deal, Montana law requires that the remaining $160 million of BCBSMT’s financial reserves and resources be set aside, that they not be acquired by the Chicago company. The law requires using this money to start a foundation. Nobody knows who will run the foundation. Nobody knows the purpose of the foundation. In short, nobody knows the fate of the

$160 million.

Our suggestion: Give the money back to the people who paid it in the first place – Blue Cross and Blue Shield policyholders: the businesses and individuals whose money built the reserves of the company. Why?

■ It is their money in the first place. If a customer was insured by BCBSMT, they contributed to the growth and maintenance of financial reserves of the company. Now that the company has been sold, they deserve to get their money back.

■ Montana’s small- and mid-size businesses have plenty of rules and regulations that cost them a great deal of their financial resources. As Obamacare continues to take effect, a reimbursement of money that they paid in past years will help these employers address the costs of the new health care law.

■ Already, some folks have suggested using the $160 million to finance expansion of Medicaid in Montana. A dozen years ago when a New York State Blue Cross and Blue Shield company was sold, similar funds were given to hospitals. We say, “Let’s give it back” to the hard-working people of Montana who put it there to begin with.

Will the former and current customers of BCBSMT ever see a dime of their money reimbursed? It’s hard to say. Still, it is an important idea that is well worth consideration. Wouldn’t it be nice if a “shot in the arm” for Montana’s employers actually didn’t cost them an arm and a leg for once?

Jim Edwards is president of Mountain West Benefits. Richard Miltenberger is a partner of Mountain West Benefits. They are founders of the Montana Business Health Network, a public information effort to help educate business owners regarding the new federal and state health care laws, particularly the Affordable Care Act of 2010.

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