After two years of operation, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association's BlueCard Worldwide program has truly gone global, allowing coverage for inpatient care at almost 100 hospitals in 31 countries.
Launched in late 1996, the BlueCard Worldwide program allows Blues enrollees to pay the same charges -- copayments and deductibles -- for inpatient care at network hospitals overseas that they would pay in the U.S. Those enrolled in a Blues HMO would pay nothing. Without the program, Blues enrollees would pay the entire foreign hospital bill upon discharge and wait for their local health plan to reimburse them.
Last year MODERN HEALTHCARE reported that the program included 17 countries, most of them in Western Europe. Now the 14 European countries make up less than half the list. The Blues has added to its international network hospitals in the Bahamas, Egypt, the Netherlands, the Netherlands Antilles, Singapore, South Africa and numerous countries in Latin America and the Middle East.
The hospitals are located strategically according to where most enrollees travel or live, says Barry Weinrebe, director of the BlueCard program. The national Blues association also considered the quality of the hospitals and their reputations, he adds.
All 55 independent Blues plans, which have a total enrollment of 68.7 million people, offer the program.
The Blues plans have received positive feedback about the program from enrollees, Weinrebe says. "It's very important to know that when you're outside the U.S. you have access to care," he says.
The program could be the only one of its kind, according to the American Association of Health Plans, which says it doesn't know of other insurers offering such overseas coverage.
From a marketing standpoint, the BlueCard program is a "great way for Blue Cross to differentiate themselves," says Jim McMahon, the Blues' senior brand manager international.
The national Blues plans to continue expansion of the program. "We recognize that we cannot stay static by adding inpatient capabilities," Weinrebe says. "Over time we will be adding significant enhancements, so members will have services throughout the world. Down the road, we will be adding a physician component and access to more institutions."