Health insurance giant Highmark Inc. will expand its Community Blue limited network plan to 21 counties in central and eastern Pennsylvania starting Jan. 1, the company announced Friday.
Community Blue Premier Flex will be offered to group customers and the plan contains two levels of in-network benefits – enhanced value and standard value. Members will pay less for enhanced value providers and standard value requires higher member cost sharing. The quality of the care is the same, regardless of the designation, Highmark said in a prepared statement.
The insurer promises premium savings up to 20 percent for Community Blue coverage.
“In the short time since we have introduced this benefit design in north central Pennsylvania, we are pleased with the customer response and are excited about the rollout for the entire region,” Highmark Health Services Senior Vice President of Product, Marketing and Strategy Steven Nelson said in a prepared statement.
Although new to the Pittsburgh region this year, tiered health insurance plans have been around for more than 10 years, but consumers have been slow to embrace the idea, according to a 2010 survey by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute.
The survey found that the percentage of the population that would find a lower cost-sharing incentive extremely or very useful in choosing a more effecive medical treatment fell to 55 percent from 61 percent between 2009 and 2010. The percentage who reported finding the lower cost sharing somewhat useful increased to 29 percent from 25 percent during the same period and the percentage reporting that it would not be useful increased to 16 percent from 11 percent.
Also, some providers have knocked Highmark’s limited network plan, including UPMC, which turns away patients with the coverage, even if they pay cash, and Geisinger Health System, which Highmark classified as a standard rather than enhanced provider. In a recent open letter published in a local newspaper, Geisinger President and CEO Glenn Steele urged readers to call Highmark to challenge the provider’s “standard” designation.