Topeka — The state's largest health insurance company announced Thursday that it will offer a new, half-cost plan designed for uninsured Kansans.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas said its ValueBlue plan would be available in 87 counties, starting March 1. People will be eligible if their household incomes are no more than double the federal poverty line - $2,682 a month for a single parent with two children - and if they've not had insurance for a year.
Blue Cross officials said health care providers agreed to take half their normal reimbursements. Also, the company plans to absorb administrative costs estimated at an average of $500 for every new contract.
"If we want a healthier Kansas, then we need to step up and do something," said company spokesman Graham Bailey.
During a news conference, Blue Cross touted the plan as a cooperative effort with the Kansas Medical Society, the Kansas Hospital Assn. and Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger's office.
Blue Cross provides group health insurance plans for about 650,000 people in 103 of the state's 105 counties, all except Johnson and Wyandotte. The company collects $1.2 billion in premiums annually.
The company still hasn't signed on health care providers in 16 counties, including Atchison, Butler and Harvey, but hopes to do so in the future.
"We recognize that we also share in the responsibility in providing the availability of affordable health insurance to Kansans," said Michael Mattox, Blue Cross' chief executive officer.
ValueBlue's coverage will mirror the company's popular AffordaBlue plan but at half the cost. Families still will face up to $3,000 a year in out-of-pocket expenses and will pay $25 for routine doctor's visits and the first $100 of their prescription costs.
But the plan differs from other attempts to provide low-cost plans by not sacrificing benefits.
"I think we all realize that it's not a perfect solution but it's, I think, a step in the right direction," said Jerry Slaughter, the Kansas Medical Society's executive director. "You can't let perfect get in the way of progress, and this is progress."
Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who previously served as insurance commissioner, called Blue Cross' new plan "a great step forward."
"I love to see the providers stepping up and saying, 'We can make this work,' and help to figure a situation where we can help Kansans without health insurance get health coverage," she said during an interview.
State officials estimate that more than one in every 10 Kansas residents is not insured, or about 300,000 people. Praeger said a 2000 study suggested that more than half have gone without insurance for at least two years.
"If you get people insured," Slaughter said, "they're going to be healthier, more productive. You'll, we hope, identify problems early that could become more serious later and reduce overall costs to the individual and system that way."
The state already provides coverage for children whose household incomes are double the federal poverty level or less. Sebelius has proposed spending an additional $3.5 million annually to ensure that no children age 5 and under are uninsured.
But the eligibility requirements are tougher for adults who want help from the state. They have to live in households earning less than a third of the poverty level - only $429 a month for a family of three - to qualify for coverage through the Medicaid program.
Bailey said the new plan is designed for adults who don't qualify for Medicaid.
Praeger said that even if children have state coverage, parents who aren't uninsured often don't seek out non-emergency care for them.
Company officials don't know how many people will sign up for the new plan.
"From my vantage point, if we have a thousand participants at the close of the year, I think it will be a success," Mattox said.