WEA moving 100k members to United, Aetna after more than 50 years with Premera Blue Cross

This story is crossposted on State of Reform’s health policy news site. 

The Washington Education Association has decided to move its members’ insurance benefits to a model that allows members the choice between United and Aetna products.  Prior to this move, WEA had been served by Premera Blue Cross for more than 50 years.

The WEA represents teachers and some classified staff in the state’s public K-12 schools.  They are one of the largest, most politically active unions in Washington State.

The WEA account includes 109,000 members and will move to this “dual offering” model on November 1.

Jeff Akers serves as United Healthcare’s Vice President of Public Sector and Labor & Trusts.  He explained that the WEA made the move to United because of the array of services it can bring directly to WEA’s membership.

Washington Education Association chose UnitedHealthcare thanks in large part to our commitment to quality and innovation, our easy-to use consumer tools such as Health4Me and Advocate4Me, and programs like Rally and Real Appeal—which make workplace wellness, fitness goals and weight management easy to attain and maintain. WEA was equally impressed by our Dedicated Service Team Model and our San Antonio-based Service Center, which Aon and WEA toured.

Aon is a broker that operates its own private exchange, though Akers says that’s not the route that WEA chose to take when moving their members.  “We will be offered alongside Aetna in a dual-carrier slice offering,” Akers said.

WEA invited carriers, including its current healthcare service partner Premera Blue Cross, to participate in an RFP process to take the organization in this new direction. Premera opted to remove itself from consideration during the RFP process, an understandably difficult decision having served WEA members for more than 50 years.

This is the kind of big account that many in the Washington insurance market have been watching to see if United would win.  United has grown in recent years to be among the largest health plans by total membership of any carrier in the state.

United’s current enrollment of members, for both underwritten and ASO lives, across all lines of business in Washington State is about 1.15 million, according to Akers.  Those break down along the following lines of business.

  • 305,399 commercial and ASO/ERISA members
  • 283,529 Medicare/retiree members
  • 235,982 Medicaid/Community & State members
  • 325,452 Military and Veteran members

These numbers are prior to any future WEA enrollment.  By comparison Regence was around the 1.1 million member level at the end of 2016.  Kaiser Permanente, formerly Group Health, reports membership of about 630,000.  Premera/Lifewise has 1.9 million members though a portion of those are out of state.

Steve Kipp, Premera’s Vice President of Corporate Communications, provided the following statement.

We have been honored to be the healthcare partner for thousands of teachers, school administrators and other employees of the WEA for more than half a century. In the end, this was a business decision made after carefully considering every possible option and reaching the conclusion that it would not be in the best interests of Premera or its customers to continue as the WEA’s endorsed health plan. We wish the WEA and its enrollees all the best and want them to know our door is always open, should they reconsider their health plan options.

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