(Bloomberg) — A group of 16 U.S. Blue Cross insurers, including WellPoint Inc. (NYSE:WLP), is joining with the U.K.’s Bupa to create the world’s biggest provider network for international health-insurance customers, the companies said.
The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association will form a combined provider network with Bupa, the U.K.’s largest private medical insurer, that will include more than 11,500 hospitals in more than 190 countries, the partners said in a statement.
Closely held Bupa will also purchase a 49 percent stake in Highway to Health Inc., a company owned by the Blue Cross plans that sells global insurance products. Terms weren’t disclosed.
The partnership may help Blue Cross insurers like WellPoint better compete with UnitedHealth Group Inc. (NYSE:UNH) and Cigna Corp. (NYSE:CI) – companies that have been growing business outside the United States. The partnership will initially focus on benefits for expatriate workers and look to expand its offerings later on.
“We are going to be able to provide expatriates with the best solution to access health care around the world, and this will also benefit large employers who have employees who travel abroad for long periods,” said Robert Elfinger, a spokesman for the Chicago-based Blue Cross Association, in a telephone interview. In Blue Cross and Blue Shield, the venture has “a brand everybody knows and Americans trust.”