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Blues Plan To Open Bank

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The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association wants to start its own bank, to increase member companies’ ability to manage health care spending accounts.[@@]

The proposed Blue Healthcare Bank would give members more choice and would enable them to simplify payments to health care providers, according to the BCBSA, Chicago.

The program, which requires approval from regulators, is aimed at members enrolled in consumer-directed health plans, health 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 open soon after Jan. 1, 2006, says Chris Hamrick, a BCBSA spokesman.

Of the 39 Blues plans in the association, 31 are expected to participate, representing a total of 71 million consumers, Hamrick says. He estimates those members represent 40% to 42% of the medical spending account market.

The Blues teamed up to set up a Blue Visa debit card program with Visa USA Inc. 2 weeks ago.

Members of Blues plans would not be required to put their savings account in the Blue Healthcare Bank, Hamrick says. Several Blues, including a number of units of WellPoint Inc., Indianapolis, have announced agreements with other banks to provide investment products for funds placed in the accounts.