CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — Tennessee businesses and their employees now have another choice in their search for innovative health care cost control solutions. On Oct. 1, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee will introduce health plans designed to accommodate a Health Reimbursement Arrangement(HRA).

The HRA-compatible plans join BlueCross’ expanding portfolio of consumer-directed health care (CDHC) products and tools, intended to give employers and employees more choice and control over their health care and financial decisions.

“A growing number of businesses and individuals are exploring the advantages of consumer-directed health care and looking to BlueCross for alternatives to keep their health costs down,” said Paul Kulpa, senior program manager of CDHC plans for BlueCross. “Consumer-directed health care, like that offered by an HRA, not only gives people more flexibility and choice in their health care, but it’s also a more affordable method for employers to offer their employees the comprehensive benefits they need and deserve.”

An HRA is a financial arrangement that is coupled with a high-deductible health plan. The HRA is set up and funded by an employer with a minimum pre-tax and/or tax-deductible contribution of $500 that can be used to reimburse employees for approved medical expenses such as copays, deductibles, coinsurance and prescriptions. Unused funds may roll over from year to year as determined by the employer. Most self-funded or fully insured businesses with 26 or more employees are eligible to participate.

According to Kulpa, education is key to understanding the HRA and CDHC philosophy.

“Whether it’s a health reimbursement arrangement, health savings or flexible spending account, consumers should educate themselves on the specifics of the product in order to get the greatest benefit,” Kulpa said. “There are many things to consider such as how much medical service you use, the true cost of your health care and your willingness to adjust your health care habits in order to take advantage of the plan’s associated cost savings. To help increase this knowledge and understanding, BlueCross has developed a full suite of decision support tools.”

The newest tool available to help individuals navigate the CDHC options provided by their employers is the health plan comparison tool. Located under the consumer health tools link on www.bcbst.com, the plan comparison instrument allows employees with multiple plan options to see the features of each plan side by side. The comparison tool is customized for each group, with only that group’s plan options. Employees enter their estimated health care use for the next year and who will be covered. Based on what data are entered into the benefit cost calculator, the system calculates the projected health care costs associated with each plan option, including employees’ premium contributions and out-of-pocket costs.

Other tools in the CDHC suite include a drug calculator, hospital quality comparison data, provider directory, online enrollment for group employees and several health management tools.

“These tools together with the consumer-directed plans are a great way to engage people in their health plan costs. Sharing the important responsibility of health care expenses helps employers and employees alike plan for the future and alleviate the rising cost of care,” Kulpa said.

Employers or individuals seeking more information on CDHC health plans from BlueCross can contact their broker/agent, call 1-800-565-9140 or visit www.bcbst.com.

About BlueCross

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee's mission is to provide its customers and communities with peace of mind through affordable solutions for health and healing, life and living. Founded in 1945, the Chattanooga-based company is focused on reinventing the health plan for its 3 million members in Tennessee and across the country. Through its integrated health management approach, BlueCross provides patient-centric products and services that drive health improvement and positively impact health care quality and value. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Inc. is an independent licensee of the BlueCross BlueShield Association. For more information, visit the company's website at www.bcbst.com.