Healthcare Business News

Blue Cross affiliation with U.K. insurer Bupa to create global provider network

By Paul Demko
Posted: January 10, 2014 - 1:45 pm ET

The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association is partnering with the U.K's Bupa to create the world's largest provider network for international insurance customers. The network will span 190 countries and include more than 11,500 hospitals and 750,000 medical providers, according to the partners.

As part of the deal, Bupa will purchase a 49% share in Highway to Health, a company owned by the Blue Cross firms that sells global insurance plans under the GeoBlue product line. The partnership will initially focus on benefits for individuals who are working in foreign countries.

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“We know that people are becoming increasingly globally mobile—either to live, study or simply travel abroad for long periods of time—and travel insurance doesn't always provide the coverage they need or expect,” said Robert Lang, managing director of Bupa's Global Market Unit, in a statement. “We're responding by creating the biggest global provider network for people who require international health coverage, and other propositions will follow later this year.”

Maureen Sullivan, Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association's senior vice president and chief strategy officer, said the products should be attractive to businesses with employees working in foreign countries, tourists travelling abroad for extended periods and students studying abroad. “It's a fairly broad set of customers that are going to benefit from this partnership,” Sullivan said.

The international partnership is part of a trend toward globalization in the insurance industry. In 2012, UnitedHealth Group acquired a 90% stake in Brazil's largest healthcare company, Amil Participacoes, for $4.9 billion. In recent years, Cigna Corp. has acquired the U.K.'s FirstAssist Insurance Services Limited and Belgium's Vanbreda International to bolster its global presence.

Sullivan said that the trend towards globalization isn't particularly new, but that she expects it to continue and that the partnership with Bupa will allow the Blue Cross plans to better respond to that reality. “This is a market that's growing rapidly,” she said.

The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association is a network of 37 insurance plans with operations in all 50 states that provides coverage to more than nearly 100 million individuals. It includes WellPoint, a publicly traded company that operates in 14 states.

Follow Paul Demko on Twitter: @MHpdemko

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