Seattle-based King County Medical Blue Shield and Pierce County Medical Bureau, Tacoma, Wash.-another Blue Shield plan-are exploring a possible merger.
A statewide organization could be formed by early 1997, according to board members and senior executives from each company.
Dale Francis, King County Medical's president and chief executive officer, said a merger could bring "tremendous efficiencies" in sales and marketing, information systems, medical management, finance and other areas.
King County Medical is the state's largest health plan, with 880,000 enrollees. Pierce County Medical serves 200,000 enrollees.
Both plans already work closely in a regional affiliation of Northwest health plans called the Benchmark Group, which includes Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oregon and Medical Service Bureau-Blue Shield of Idaho. Pending regulatory approval, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Utah and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana have said they plan to join the Benchmark Group.
None of the other Benchmark Group plans, which are all statewide plans, are discussing mergers, said a Pierce County Medical spokeswoman. Washington is unique in currently having no statewide Blue Shield plan, she said.