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BCBS (Blue Cross Blue Shield)

Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance (BCBS) jointly covers over 97 million Americas by forming a federation of 39 independent BCBS healthcare coverage companies, all locally operated and community-based. More than 80% of physicians and 90% of hospitals contract with BCBS insurers. No other insurance company ranks so highly.

BCBS (Blue Cross Blue Shield) Ratings »


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BCBS History

When Justin Ford Kimball became the vice president of Baylor University in 1929, the Waco, Texas administrator set in motion a health plan to guarantee teachers 21 days of hospital care for only $6 a year. This plan, which was begun at The Baylor College of Medicine, College of Dentistry, School of Nursing, and the university hospital, eventually expanded outward to other Dallas employee groups. As it caught on, similar health care plans began to spread through the entire United States.

The Hospital Service Association, as BCBS of Minnesota was called back in those days, first used the cross symbol in 1934 in their advertising. The blue Greek cross was commissioned for a poster designed by Joseph Binder, an artist from Vienna, by the company secretary, E.A. van Steenwyk. Van Steenwyk liked the look of the cross, and continued to use it, which led to the spread of the blue cross design to other parts of the country as well.

Five years later, in 1939, the Chicago home of the AHA started to use the blue cross to symbolize the meeting of certain standards by health plans nation-wide. They administrated the use of the blue cross symbol until 1960, when the Blue Cross Association was founded. Still, the two organizations remained tied until 1972.

At the same time that Kimball was creating his health plan, a different plan was growing up among the lumber and mining camps of the Pacific Northwest. This other plan, which quickly became very popular with the workers, provided medical care to the participants by paying monthly fees to groups of physicians organized into medical service bureaus. Pierce County Medical Bureau, which later became Regence Blue Shield, was the first of these, founded in Tacoma, Washington in 1917. Their symbol is the shield, which was first created by Carl Metzger in 1939 in Buffalo, New York. That same year, the first Blue Shield plan was founded in California. Like the cross, the shield symbol grew and spread until it was informally adopted by the nine “Associated Medical Care” plans in 1948, later renamed the National Association of Blue Shield Plans.

BCBS Organization

BCBS insurance companies are independent insurance company franchisees, traditionally unassociated with each other, which offer insurance plans to a specifically defined region under one or both of the association brands (Blue Cross and Blue Shield). BCBS stretches nation-wide, with at least some form of insurance being offered in every state of the union in addition to functioning as Medicare administrators in many states. BCBS insurance provides group coverage to state government employees on a regular basis, and also provides care to the United States Federal government under the Federal Employees Health Benefit Plan (FEHBP), which was established by BCBS on their behalf. A strong bond, then, has been established between BCBS and the policy-makers at the highest levels of the U.S. government, whose policies can and do affect health insurance policies.

The traditional establishment of BCBS was that the Blue Cross provided hospital coverage while the Blue Shield provided medical coverage to health plan participants; however, this division has been largely discarded with the exception of the health insurance plans of eastern Pennsylvania, where the Blue Cross and Blue Shield providers for the area have established joint marketing agreements for their separate medical and hospital plans. Even so, Independence Blue Cross of Philadelphia provides managed care plans like HMOs and PPOs, which provide both hospital and medical coverage, much like the rest of the BCBS companies throughout the U.S. In most locations, one insurance company will operate under both of the BCBS brands, while in other locations like central Pennsylvania and California, each brand is operated by competing insurance companies.

Many, but not all BCBS insurance plans are administered by not-for-profit organizations, though all BCBS insurance plans must pay federal income tax. The largest BCBS member is WellPoint, which covers 14 states and which is a publicly traded company. CareFirst is another multi-state company, as is The Regence Group (which is where the Blue Shield started). Four BCBS plans are operated by the largest non-investor owned member, the Heath Care Service Corporation (HCSC).

More About BCBS

BCBS is not just in the United States. Today, it operates in more than 170 countries

BCBS is a national federation, comprised of 39 independent BCBS companies, all community-based and locally operated.

39 BCBS companies have provided millions of families with affordable, high-quality heath insurance for more than 70 years.

BCBS represents the oldest and largest group of health benefits companies in the United States, and the BCBS brands are the most recognized in the country.

BCBS has over 880 employees, and is headquartered in Chicago.

BCBS’s 39 companies provide healthcare coverage for one third of all Americans. That comes out to more than 99 million people.

BCBS provides coverage in all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

BCBS is among the 20 largest employers in the entire United States