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BCBSMT Celebrates 75 Years Serving Montanans

Sep. 09, 2015

Blues Thriving in 'Transformative' Insurance Market

Helena, MT — The state's largest and longest-standing health insurer and third-party administrator is celebrating a significant milestone.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana (BCBSMT) on Wednesday turns 75 and, with the milestone, celebrates three-quarters of a century of providing Montanans with access to quality, affordable health care coverage.

"I am extremely proud of our heritage and dedication to Montana," said BCBSMT President Mike Frank. "Health care has changed so much throughout the past 75 years, but one thing that hasn't changed is our commitment to serve Montanans."

The origins of Blue Cross plans date back to the early 1900s, when two organizations emerged — one to help teachers pay for hospital costs and the other to help loggers and miners gain access to medical care. Eventually, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association was formed as the national organization that linked together a growing number of independent Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans across the country.

In Montana, the Hospital Service Association (Blue Cross) started in 1940 and the Montana Physicians Service (Blue Shield) formed in 1946. A local medical community of about 200 physicians loaned the company $20,000 and then agreed to accept Montana Physicians Service compensation as payment in full for their services — a model that continues today.

The two companies partnered from 1946 until 1952, when the Hospital Service Association moved to Great Falls and, in 1964, became Blue Cross of Montana. In 1986, the two companies merged to become Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana. The company has been headquartered in Helena ever since.

On Aug. 1, 2013, BCBSMT became a local division of HCSC, the nation's largest customer-owned health insurer and third-party administrator. HCSC, a Mutual Legal Reserve Company, owns the Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans in Illinois, Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and now Montana, and has more than 15 million members.

"This was a strategic move on our part to join HCSC and bring Montanans the best of both worlds — the financial security and exhaustive resources of a large, national company with the strong local presence of a company born and bred in Montana," Frank said. "We are now positioned to continue BCBSMT's legacy as the leader in Montana."

Since aligning with HCSC, BCBSMT has continued its tradition of making significant investments in Montana. It re-opened a provider service center in Great Falls in June of 2014, adding 120 new jobs to the economy. BCBSMT launched its new mobile immunization unit, called the Care Van, and has administered more than 1,600 vaccinations in rural and underserved areas of Montana since last September. And the company recently broke ground on a new headquarters in Helena.

"On behalf of the Helena Area Chamber of Commerce, we congratulate Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana on their 75th anniversary as a premier business, not only in Helena, but in the state of Montana," said Cathy Burwell, president and CEO of the Helena Area Chamber of Commerce. "In Helena, BCBS of Montana has not only been a large employer and business leader for 75 years with a significant economic impact, but a big contributor and supporter of the many organizations and causes within our community."

"They are not only a great company for the health of their members but a great company for the health of our community," Burwell added.

BCBSMT is no stranger to innovation. Most recently, it has pioneered the Patient-Centered Medical Home in Montana and is leading the evolution toward value-based care. Both care delivery models focus on improved patient outcomes and delivering the right care, at the right time, and in the right setting.

Frank, who at age 48 is in his fifth year as CEO or plan president, has seen his share of change in nearly 16 years with the company. Since 1999, Frank has served the company in a number of leadership roles, including CEO, president, chief legal and operations officer, and chief administrative officer.

Perhaps one of the biggest waves of change came in 2010 with the passage of the Affordable Care Act. Most of the provisions of the sweeping federal health insurance reform are now in place, including guaranteed coverage despite pre-existing conditions, and the implementation of the individual insurance Marketplace and the subsidies to offset the cost of a health care plan.

"This is one of the most transformative and unprecedented periods in history," said John Doran, public relations director at BCBSMT. "But it is also one of the most exciting. We are on the ground level of historic change and we have the unique opportunity to help guide Montanans through this transformation."

One thing that hasn't changed is BCBSMT's longstanding commitment to invest in the communities in which it serves. In 2015, its 75th year of business, BCBSMT has already invested more than $750,000 in local Montana communities through grants, sponsorships and infrastructure. BCBSMT recently awarded four $50,000 grants as part of its Healthy Kids, Healthy Families program. At the end of August, the company built its second KaBOOM! playground in Montana, this time at Trails End Park in Billings.

In addition, BCBSMT employees typically volunteer more than 4,000 hours of service each year. They also contribute more than $35,000 annually to the local chapter of United Way and to Montana Shares, combined.

"Our employees are our biggest asset," Doran said. "They truly care about our members and our communities. We invest a lot financially, but it's hard to beat rolling up your sleeves and investing some sweat equity into making Montana a better place to live, work and play."

In all, BCBSMT has nearly 600 Montana-based employees spread between its Helena headquarters, Great Falls provider service center, and district offices in Kalispell, Missoula, Great Falls, Butte, Bozeman and Billings. Today, BCBSMT serves more than 270,000 members throughout the state and, in 2014, had a nearly $79 million economic impact throughout the state.

It's been a long journey since the first trained doctors arrived in territorial Montana in the 1850s, when the going rate for a doctor's visit was about $1 and a substantial surgery cost about $75.

"Times have changed, indeed," Frank said. "I'm excited about our future. There is a lot to look forward to as we continue to serve Montanans for another 75 years."

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