HELENA — A national insurance broker and financial firm has merged with one of Montana’s largest health benefit consultants, which advises scores of business and other groups on health coverage.

The Leavitt Group — the third-largest, privately held insurance broker in the country — merged Tuesday with Mountain West Benefits, headquartered in Helena, the two firms announced.

Richard Miltenberger, a partner in Mountain West Benefits, said the merger will enable the firm to expand and provide more choices to commercial buyers of health insurance.

“We plan on being in every major and many smaller communities in the state, offering a viable alternative to consumers that they may not have today,” he said.

Miltenberger also said Mountain West is “somewhat unique” among benefit consultants because it supports the Affordable Care Act and is advising employers to embrace the federal health reform law rather than fight it.

“We’ll be telling more and more employers how to use this (law) to enhance opportunities for their employees,” he said.

Mountain West employs only 18 people but advises many business groups, school districts and counties across Montana on their health insurance plans. Many of these groups have self-funded plans.

The Leavitt Group, based in Utah and started in the 1970s, owns portions of more than 115 insurance agencies and related businesses. It’s controlled by the brothers of former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, who was the secretary of health and human services under President George W. Bush.

Miltenberger said the Leavitt Group bought a majority share of Mountain West Benefits and is combining it with two other Montana insurance outlets in which it already had a stake: Taylor-Leavitt Insurance Agency in Billings and Northern Montana Insurance Services of Choteau.

The new Montana entity is Leavitt Great West Insurance Services.

Mountain West will offer its expertise in health coverage to clients of the other companies, as well as new customers, Miltenberger said.

Leavitt Great West Insurance Services will be something of a counterweight to PayneWest Insurance, the dominant commercial insurance agency in Montana, he said.

PayneWest formed in 2012 when Payne Financial Group bought Western States Insurance, which had been owned by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana, the state’s largest private health insurer.

“We can do more of what we’re doing,” Miltenberger said of the merger.

“It gives us deeper resources to reach out to Montana consumers and, ultimately, gives the consumers greater choice.”

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