BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee boosts Medicare Advantage enrollment

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee boosts Medicare Advantage enrollment

February 8th, 2017 by Dave Flessner in Business Around the Region

The headquarters of BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee is on Cameron Hill in downtown Chattanooga.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

Biggest Medicare Advantage plans

In Tennessee, the insurers with the most Medicare Advantage enrollees, including dual special needs plans, are:

1. Humana Inc., 134,096, up 1 percent from the previous year

2. BlueCross Blue Shield of Tennessee, 124,488, up 10 percent from the prior year

3. UnitedHealth Group, 91,726, up 10 percent from the previous year

4. Cigna, 81,113, down 7 percent from the previous year

Sources: Company filings

Tennessee's biggest health insurer continued to tout its campaign for seniors to stick with the "Blues," helping BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee outpace its rivals in signing up subscribers for Medicare Advantage plans in Tennessee last year.

BlueCross said Tuesday its enrollment in all types of Medicare Advantage plans rose by 10,961 people during 2016 to nearly 125,000 subscribers. Although BlueCross still trails Humana in the number of Medicare Advantage customers, BlueCross was the fastest growing insurer in the state for signing up more Medicare Advantage subscribers last year.

"We have an advantage that no one else has and that is the fact that we are 'Blue' and most people know us from their commercial insurance experience," said J. Todd Ray, vice president and general manager of senior products for BlueCross. "We are really proud of our growth and are poised to continue growing. We think we have the best known brand and the best customer service so our goal is to be No. 1 in Tennessee."

BlueCross is already the biggest health insurer for commercial and TennCare coverage in Tennessee. However, the Chattanooga-based insurer didn't start offering Medicare Advantage plans until 2008, two years after the program began, and most of its growth has some since 2013 when BlueCross introduced its first zero-dollar preferred provider plan.

Medicare Advantage plans typically offer some drug benefits, which standard Medicare does not, and often include utilization management and narrower networks of health care providers to help provide more services, even if there is no more premium or deductibles than conventional Medicare.

"Having preferred provider networks and having clinical programs that prevent hospital readmissions are advantages over traditional Medicare that help both the patient and us by better managing costs and benefits," Ray said.

Last year, 38 percent of all Medicare recipients opted for one of the plans offered in Tennessee by Humana, UnitedHealthcare, Cigna, BlueCross, WellCare and Aetna.

Nationwide, the Kaiser Family Foundation said Medicare Advantage enrollment has grown steadily from 22 percent of all Medicare beneficiaries in 2008 to more than 31 percent last year. The average premium paid for Medicare Advantage in 2016 was $37 per month, although premium rates vary widely across the country and many opt for the no-premium plans.

BlueCross offers a couple of HMO and three PPO plans, but its most popular plan is its zero premium option.

Persons are eligible to sign up for Medicare Advantage when they turn 65 and during open enrollment periods each year from Oct 15 to Dec. 7.

Ray said about 420 of the 5,500 employees of BlueCross work to handle Medicare Advantage claims from the company's Chattanooga head quarters.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6340.