Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Michigan could sell its products in other states under legislation being considered in the Michigan Legislature.
A package of bills designed to convert the plan from a healthcare corporation into a mutual insurance company was introduced this month by state Sen. John Schwartz, M.D. (R-Battle Creek).
"They need fewer sorts of blockades so they can continue to grow," Schwartz said.
The plan's not-for-profit status would not change. A companion bill would prohibit the insurer from later converting to stock ownership.
With 4.3 million enrollees and 1996 revenues of $7 billion, the Michigan Blues is among the top five of 58 Blues plans nationally, according to the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.
The Detroit-based plan has master agreements with the Big Three auto-makers but relies on Blues affiliates in other states to cover workers who live outside Michigan.
In January, it ventured into multistate operations with a completed purchase of PPOM, a Southfield, Mich.-based company that manages physician and hospital networks in Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio.
Michigan Blues spokeswoman Helen Stojic said states with auto plants such as Indiana and Ohio "would be a natural fit" for expansion.
At least eight Blues plans market HMOs outside their home states under non-Blues names, and a handful market PPOs in other states, according to the national Blues association.
Those marketing HMOs include the Blues plans of Maryland, Minnesota and Kansas City, Mo.; Independence Blue Cross, Philadelphia; Trigon Blue Cross Blue Shield, Richmond, Va.; Blue Cross and Blue Shield United of Wisconsin, Milwaukee; Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, Camp Hill, Pa., and Pittsburgh; and Woodland Hills, Calif.-based WellPoint Health Networks, parent of Blue Cross of California.
WellPoint recently gained a toehold in Michigan by agreeing to buy the group health business of John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co.
Dennis Schnornack, a staff member for Michigan Gov. John Engler, said reforming the Blues' structure is being considered to offset a "modest but new burden" that would be imposed on the plan so the state can comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996.
No action will be taken until the legislature resumes its session Sept. 23.