NU Online News Service, Oct. 12, 2004, 2:41 p.m. EDT

A company that controls 3 Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans is expanding into New England.[@@]

Health Care Service Corp., Chicago, says its Fort Dearborn Life Insurance Company unit has agreed to acquire “100% of the membership interest” of Combined Services L.L.C., Concord, N.H.,

Health Care Service runs the Blues plans in Illinois, Texas and New Mexico. Its Fort Dearborn Life unit sells group and voluntary insurance products through its sisters Blues plans and alliances with other Blues plans.

Combined Services, a subsidiary of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont, is a general insurance agency that operates a network of ancillary benefits brokers in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.

The price of the deal was not immediately available, but Health Care Service says it and Vermont Blue hope to complete the deal by the end of the year.

The deal includes a agreement that calls for Vermont Blue to continue to use Combined Services as its exclusive distributor of ancillary benefits for at least 5 years, Health Care Service says.

Moody’s Investors Service, New York, hinted that a deal might be in the works by announcing recently that it might raise Health Care Service’s debt ratings but that Health Care Service could expose itself to new integration headaches by making an acquisition.