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Insurers buy private exchange to challenge states

WellPoint, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, and Health Care Service Corporation will be competing directly against state- and federally-run insurance exchanges after buying a majority stake in a private marketplace.

The three insurers purchased a 78 percent stake in Bloom Health, a two-year-old online marketplace that offers health plan options to almost 50 companies, for an undisclosed sum, Bloomberg reports. Bloom Health allows employers to contribute a defined amount per employee toward the cost of health benefits while workers choose their coverage based on various benefit plans, according to the Wall Street Journal.

"We invested in [Bloom Health] because we do feel it will grow quite a bit," Ken Goulet, president and chief executive of WellPoint's commercial business unit, told the WSJ.

The insurance companies plan to offer limited exchanged-based services next year and then become fully operational by 2013, one year before health reform-mandated marketplaces open.

"Our objective is to be in all 50 states in the next year," Goulet told Bloomberg.

Using a private exchange like Bloom Health could limit an employer's costs and provide consistency compared with separate state-run exchanges, each with their own regulations, Goulet said, Bloomberg notes. He added that Bloom Health likely will appeal to companies looking for more price certainty and could even become a conduit for increasing market share.

Private exchanges may also become popular in states that are currently against government involvement in healthcare, according to CivSource. "We believe private exchanges will be an important solution as the rising costs of healthcare leave employers searching for more predictability in their health care spend," Goulet said.

To learn more:
- see the Wall Street Journal article
- read the Bloomberg article
- check out the CivSource article

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