The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association wants to start its own bank to allow its companies’ members to manage their health care spending accounts.

The proposed Blue Healthcare Bank would give members more choice and enable them to simplify the process of paying health care providers, says BCBSA, Chicago.

The program is aimed at making it easy for members to enroll in health care savings accounts, health reimbursement arrangements and flexible spending accounts.

The bank would be set up as an industrial bank in Utah, which would have to approve the plan, along with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Washington. If approved, the bank would be operational around midyear, said Scott Serota, president and chief executive officer of BCBSA, at a conference in Washington Dec. 6.

Of 40 locally operated Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies in the association, 31 are expected to participate in the bank, representing a total of 71 million consumers, says Chris Hamrick, a BCBSA spokesman. He estimates those members represent 40% to 42% of the medical spending account market.

The advantage of a plan-owned bank to members would be easier payments of deductibles, co-payments and other qualified medical expenditures, Hamrick notes.

Members of Blues plans would not be required to put their medical savings in the Blue Healthcare Bank, Hamrick says. Indeed, a number of Blues previously have announced agreements with other banks to provide health care savings accounts along with investment products for funds Blues members put in the accounts.

BCBSA recognized, however, that offering its own bank would allow its companies to capture some of the expected growth of consumer-directed health care plans, which include health care savings accounts, according to the spokesman.

Among other services, the bank would offer the new Blue Visa debit card, which BCBSA launched two weeks ago in a joint announcement with Visa USA Inc., to facilitate payments.

“Any time you can simplify the payment process for consumers, especially in health care, it’s going to be very attractive,” says Hamrick. “The bank will make things easier for physicians and providers, too.”