The new Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana building east of Helena.

Thom Bridge, Independent Record

HELENA – A spokesman for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana said that while most of the upcoming layoffs by its parent company will occur in other parts of the country, its workforce in Montana will be affected.

Information technology and server jobs will be included in the layoffs, said John Doran, senior director of public relations for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana. Though Health Care Service Corp.'s primary servers are in Illinois and Texas, he said about 2 percent of the company's 580 Montana employees will lose their jobs. 

That comes out to about 11 or 12 jobs in Montana, but Doran declined to say the exact number or where in the state they are located. 

“We’re not releasing the number of people exactly for competitive reasons. We are not disclosing that information, but I assure you it is a very small percentage of our overall workforce," he said.

The company has about 385 people in Helena and about 120 at its office in Great Falls, Doran said. Other employees work in sales and customer service roles in other Montana communities.

The layoffs are anticipated to be completed by February or March, Doran said.

The company has perhaps 10 other job openings in Helena, he said, and the Montana employees who are losing their jobs have been advised of the vacancies and encouraged to apply for them. 

The company here in Montana, which is the fifth to join HCSC, operates “fairly independently” from HCSC, Doran noted.

He praised the company's workforce and said decisions regarding staffing are not made lightly, noting "this is the most transformative time ever in the health insurance industry." 

“And in order to meet our members’ changing needs, we have to continue to adapt our business model. Our members want technology solutions that make navigating the health care system easier and that help stabilize rising costs. Our new IT approach uses more flexible ways of working with new tools, and at the same time it allows us to invest in developing our own innovative, new capabilities," Doran said. “ ... As part of this effort, we have made the difficult decision to eliminate some IT roles in our infrastructure group."

Doran said basic operational tasks will be handled by the company's "external partners," though he declined to identify them. Critical strategy and design work will continue to be performed by HCSC and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana employees, he said. 

A Nov. 2 report by the online information technology magazine Computerworld notes the jobs are going to an India-based contractor, HCL.

When asked how HCSC would protect the confidentiality of customer information once it reached India, Doran said, “Protecting our members’ information is paramount to our business. We take every precaution to ensure that each of our external partners live up to that high expectation.”

While the Computerworld story said more than 500 people will be affected by the HCSC layoffs nationwide, Doran declined to release the total number of HCSC employees who will lose their jobs and again cited “competitive reasons.”

He also disputed national media accounts of the HCSC layoffs and disagreed with portions of the Computerworld report.

In that report, an older HCSC employee who requested anonymity said not all of those losing their jobs were “retiring” and characterized the layoffs for others as being “thrown under the bus.”

Doran said “we are not targeting any age of people whatsoever.” He did not have information on the ages of those in Montana losing their jobs, and said he would not release that information anyway. 

“We’re not going to release independent information about our employees,” he said, noting that it would be illegal to do so.

In some instances, employees who are losing their jobs are training those who will fill the vacancies, Doran said, but he declined to discuss the Computerworld story that alleged the training is a requirement to receive severance packages or discuss what severance packages were being offered. 

“I can say that we are helping these employees through the transition and there are severance packages,” Doran said.

The layoffs are less about savings than setting up the business to meet and exceed the needs of the company’s roughly 300,000 members in this transformative era of health care, Doran said.

The rates for health care premiums are a symptom of the problem in health care today, he said, explaining that “the reason for rising health care costs is that the cost of care continues to rise and the use of that care in Montana and across America also continues to rise. Until we get those two things under control, we will continue to see rising costs in our country.

“That’s why it’s so imperative that we continue to focus on transforming the health care delivery system from fee-for-service to a value-based care model.”

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