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When Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana was founded more than 70 years ago, the population of our great state was about half what it is today. Small family farms were the backbone of the economy. Gasoline was cheap and there was no such thing as a personal computer or iPad. A lot has changed, but in 70-plus years, one constant has been the service that Blue Cross and Blue Shield has provided its members. As president and CEO of BCBS of Montana, I take great personal pride every day in our history, and in the people who work here, the service they provide to our customers and the doctors, hospitals and other health care providers with whom we work.

Now, it’s going to get better.

On Sept. 17, Pat Hemingway Hall, the president and CEO of Health Care Service Corp., and I announced intentions to join forces with Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans in four other states through an alliance with HCSC.

Culture and values

We chose to join this alliance with HCSC for a number of reasons, but at the top of that list is the company’s culture and values. They operate in states similar to Montana, they are committed — as we are — to the not-for-profit model. Importantly, they are committed to a strong local leadership and employee presence. We aren’t changing who we are. We aren’t changing our name. I will continue as plan president.

So why this change?

First, joining forces with other states helps us better control our members’ costs. We are acutely aware that health care costs are the No. 1 priority for our customers and we strive to address that every day. The fact is, when it comes to controlling costs, scale matters. By becoming part of an organization with 13 million members, we will gain access to HCSC’s scale, financial strength and innovative solutions. We gain access to a company that has invested billions of dollars in cutting-edge technology and member service improvements. We are confident that this alliance will help us be more competitive on price in Montana than if we continued on our own and better serve our current and prospective members.

Second, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana will remain just that – Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana. Our team of dedicated employees will stay focused on serving our members. The strength of HCSC’s local operating philosophy is clear in the success of the four other plans it already oversees in Texas, Oklahoma, Illinois and New Mexico. Staying a local not-for-profit is crucial for me personally as a native Montanan and with 14 years at our wonderful company. We will not lose our name, our identity or our voice for all of you.

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Information hub

HCSC and BCBS of Montana have set up a joint educational initiative, which we are calling Montanans for Healthcare Excellence, to serve as an information hub, so our members and other Montanans have a source to go to when they have questions. The website, www.bigskyhealth.org, will be updated regularly as we move forward.

A lot of work lies ahead for us. We put our 270,000 customers first, and we believe this alliance will continue to maintain the security and peace of mind for all of you for years to come.

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Michael E. Frank of Helena is president and CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana.

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