The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) is one of the most recognized names in health insurance, both in the United States and around the world. Blue Cross Blue Shield has a presence in over 170 countries. The U.S. federation consists of 35 separate health insurance organizations located throughout the United States. More than 110 million Americans can claim to be insured by Blue Cross Blue Shield through the membership of all locations combined.
Blue Cross Blue Shield’s history dates back to 1929 when Justin Ford Kimball first started a health insurance company for teachers. It was called Blue Cross. Blue Shield was originally an insurance plan for employers of logging and mining camps in the Pacific Northwest. These two companies would merge, and in 1982 the official name of the association became Blue Cross Blue Shield.
The company’s headquarters is in Chicago, Illinois. The chief executive officer is Kim A. Keck. Through the combined efforts of all 35 U.S. companies, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association has health insurance products available in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.
Blue Cross Blue Shield is the health insurance provider for more than half of all federal employees. The Blue Cross Blue Shield Federal Employee Program is the single largest health plan group in the world. Blue Cross Blue Shield is also a Medicare contractor for the federal government. There are several single-state association members, as well as the multi-state groups of Anthem, CareFirst, The Regence Group, and Wellmark.
Financial Strength and Customer Satisfaction
Because the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association consists of 35 separate insurance companies, there is no one financial strength rating given by a financial rating organization. However, A.M. Best has rated most of Blue Cross Blue Shield companies with an “A” rating.
With 35 different companies, customer satisfaction ratings will vary based on the individual company you are using. According to the Best Health Insurance Companies for 2021 survey by Insure.com, seven Blue Cross Blue Shield companies made the list of fifteen, with customer satisfaction ratings in the 70s and 80s. The Better Business Bureau has listings for each specific Blue Cross Blue Shield location.
Health Insurance Options
There are many options for your health insurance needs through a Blue Cross Blue Shield plan, no matter your family situation or budget. Here are some of the most popular plans along with their perks.
Health care flexible spending accounts (FSAs) are accounts in which both you and your employer can save money tax-free to apply toward your health care. You can have your money deducted directly from your paycheck if you choose.
Depending on your employer's rules for the plan, you may not be able to roll over unused amounts to the following year. Or you may be able to roll over a certain amount, such as $550. Employers can also offer a grace period, which gives you the first 2.5 months of the new plan year to spend unused funds from the previous year.
Due to laws that have been passed related to the coronavirus pandemic, employers have the ability to carry over unused FSA funds from 2020 and 2021 to 2021 and 2022, respectively. Employers may also extend the permissible period for incurring claims for FSA plan years ending in 2020 and 2021, permit post-termination reimbursements for FSA plans, and allow mid-year election changes for FSA plans during 2021.
Health savings accounts (HSAs) are similar to FSAs, but you must have a high-deductible health insurance plan to open one. The advantage is you can still save money toward a deductible and other health care costs and enjoy the lower premium cost of a high-deductible health insurance policy. Contributions to HSA plans are tax-deductible.
Health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) are plans for employers. Employers set aside funds to reimburse employees for medical expenses for themselves or their families, including prescriptions, co-payments, or other types of medical expenses. The reimbursements are tax-free for qualified medical expenses.
A health maintenance organization (HMO) plan allows comprehensive medical coverage at low costs by having members use only providers inside the health maintenance organization. The savings by using an HMO plan can be quite significant.
The preferred provider organization (PPO) plan is similar, but it offers a little more flexibility. With a PPO, you may go out-of-network for service, although less of these expenses will be covered when you do.
Blue Cross Blue Shield offers many helpful member services for its policyholders. From the website, you can get your questions answered, find the cost of a medical procedure, review your plan’s details, make changes to your coverage, file a claim, check the status of a claim, review your balance, get a replacement member ID card, and access all your benefits and services.
You can also find your local Blue Cross Blue Shield company by entering the first three characters from your member ID card. If you don’t have your membership card available, you can also search for a local BCBS company by entering your state or zip code.
Pros and Cons
A benefit to Blue Cross Blue Shield is that the majority of health care providers and doctors will accept the insurance. That makes it easy to find a convenient place to seek treatment. BCBS also comes with the financial strength and reliability of being a well-established company with decades of proven experience. The size of the company benefits customers through its multiple health care and HSA plan options.
The size of the company can also be a drawback, especially since it is broken into regional companies that, in many ways, function separately. That can make it difficult to find specific information on the BCBS website. Customers must instead track down their regional company, then seek information from that organization. The size of the company can also create issues with customer service. It can be difficult to track down the correct people who can help with a given problem.