CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee rolls out its newest consumer-directed product offerings, PlanWise and BluePartner, qualified high-deductible health plans compatible with health savings accounts (HSAs).

PlanWise, a collection of five HSA-qualified high-deductible health plans for employer groups, is available for an Oct. 1, 2004, effective date. The three-option individual coverage plan, BluePartner, is available now.

"We’ve created these HSA-qualified health plans to provide another choice to employers and individuals as they respond to rising health care cost pressures," said Linda Andreae, vice president of underwriting and product development for BlueCross. "HSAs coupled with our new high-deductible health plans give consumers an alternative way to fund their health care expenses and help contain costs."

The Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003 created HSAs, which allow any individual not enrolled in Medicare or other health insurance plan to set aside money to pay for out-of-pocket health care expenses while enjoying certain tax benefits and investment opportunities. Only high-deductible health plans that meet federal requirements qualify for use with an HSA.

Under the law, employers, employees, or both can make contributions to an HSA. These tax-deductible contributions can reduce payroll taxes for employers and help reduce gross income on individuals’ tax returns. BluePartner and PlanWise high-deductible health plans can be purchased without an HSA. However, both plans are designed to qualify for use with HSAs in order to gain the greatest benefit for consumers.

According to Andreae, there are numerous advantages to HSAs for both employers and individuals.

"The HSA creates a new opportunity for employers of any size to reduce their health care costs and make their employees more responsible health care consumers," Andreae said. "On the flip side, HSAs allow individual employees to plan and save for future medical expenses and help offset the costs of a high-deductible health plan."

Funds in an HSA can be withdrawn, without taxes or penalties, to pay for qualified medical expenses, such as premiums, and other non-covered items, like braces and prescription eyeglasses.

At the end of the year, remaining balances carry over to the next year and earn interest tax-free.

"HSAs have the potential to help reduce the number of uninsureds in Tennessee," Andreae said. "Whether they’re employees who can’t afford employer-sponsored benefits, individuals whose small company doesn’t offer insurance, or young, healthy adults who haven’t realized the need to buy insurance, they can benefit from the tax savings and flexibility of an HSA."

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee does not offer HSA administration. Special arrangements have been made with Wells Fargo Health Benefit Services to handle the HSA component for employee groups and individuals.

To purchase PlanWise, employer groups should contact their broker or account manager. Individuals interested in a BluePartner health plan should call 1-800-845-2738.

For more information on HSAs contact Wells Fargo Health Benefit Services at 1-866-391-2049 or visit www.wfhbs.com/wfhsatn/.

About Wells Fargo

Wells Fargo & Company is a diversified financial services company with $420 billion in assets, providing banking, insurance, investments, mortgage and consumer finance to more than 23 million customers from more than 6,000 stores and the internet (wellsfargo.com) across North America and elsewhere internationally. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. is the only "Aaa"- rated bank in the United States.

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.