Blue Cross Blue Shield Health Insurance
Blue Cross Blue Shield is a combination of two groups, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, which previously provided health insurance for two different needs. Blue Cross was originally created to provide guaranteed coverage for hospitalization while Blue Shield was designed for less expensive physician visits.
Today, the combined entity as well as the many satellite companies and institutions cover some 100 million Americans either through individual health insurance, group health insurance, or a number of tax advantaged spending accounts. Due to the state regulation of health insurance, there are thirty nine different Blue Cross Blue Shield affiliates that provide insurance in each jurisdiction.
Blue Cross Blue Shield is very much a "trade name" for the different companies that make up the entirety of the organization. When one goes to purchase insurance from the Blue Cross Blue Shield they are sent to an affiliate that sells insurance on their behalf. The products Blue Cross Blue Shield offers are as varied as the satellite firms that offer its services.
HMOs, PPOs, and POS
Blue Cross and Blue Shield's most popular products are its health maintenance organization and the preferred provider organization health insurance. An HMO is a very strict, managed care product where customers pay a monthly premium for care at a Blue Cross Blue Shield directed clinic. HMOs are beneficial to consumers in that the fees are usually fixed rate, and all services are provided, but they are only furnished at the direction and approval of the HMO.
The Blue Cross Blue Shield PPO health insurance covers nearly seventy million American who, through the plan, receive medical care at a discount. Unlike an HMO, PPO members can go to preferred providers and receive a discount, or use the plan at clinics or doctors who are not members, allowing for choice in their medical care. A PPO is, in layman's terms, a less restrictive HMO with less coverage for medical needs.
A final product, the point of service, is a blend of an HMO and PPO. POS plans usually have zero deductibles for in-network care when compared to a PPO, but with much higher deductibles for out of network care. However, a POS allows the freedom to see any specialist or doctor without a referral, a huge benefit for those who want a second or more specialized medical opinion.
Blue Cross Blue Shield Flexible Spending Account (FSA)
The flexible spending account from Blue Cross Blue Shield is a product used either as “insurance” or in unison with a BCBS insurance plan. A flexible spending account is not actually insurance, but maintains the same tax treatment.
A flexible spending account allows a person to make pre-tax contributions to a spending account of up to $3,000 per year. The payments to the flexible spending account are made over time and are usually deducted as part of payroll.
However, flexible spending accounts allow savers to use all of their annual contribution at any time. Thus, if an employee schedules to put $3,000 toward a flexible spending account per year, then the whole $3,000 becomes available at the beginning of the year and is effectively repaid over time. Keep in mind, though that flex accounts cannot be used on anything, though they can be used at clinics and pharmacies and for use on copayments or deductibles. However, cash not used by the end of each fiscal year is kept by the administrator.
There are no end user fees for a flexible spending account, as they are commonly afforded by an employer. The self-employed are not qualified, and instead must seek out a different account known as the “medical savings account.”
Blue Cross Blue Shield is one of the most established and respected brands in the American health insurance market. The combined entity insures more people and has been in business longer than any other health insurance company. Those two attributes should be a testament to the company's reputation as a quality insurance company.