Health

Tuesday, Jan 07 2014 06:28 PM

Blue Shield unveils plans to buy GEMCare Health Plan

By THE BAKERSFIELD CALIFORNIAN

Health insurance giant Blue Shield of California announced plans to buy Bakersfield-based GEMCare Health Plan Tuesday, but an executive for the local insurance company said plan members probably won't notice any changes until next year.

"We expect little to no impact on employees and operations here in Bakersfield at least through December 2014," said Mike Myers, GEMCare Health Plan's president and CEO.

He said the price Blue Shield will pay is confidential.

Myers said the provider networks for members will stay the same once the transition occurs.

The acquisition must be approved by the California Department of Managed Health Care. Myers said the state has 30 to 60 days to review the plan and he expects approval on or about March 1.

The local plan has 8,000 Medicare members and more than 12,000 commercial members in Kern, San Luis Obispo, Ventura and northern Santa Barbara counties. The plan's shareholders are Dignity Health and the physicians of GEMCare IPA, which started in 1992, according to a Tuesday news release from Blue Shield.

The plan, which started in 2006, is called GEMCare Health Plan in Kern County and Physicians Choice Health Plan in its central coast area. In 2012, the plan's total revenue was more than $133.3 million, according to the Department of Managed Health Care. Myers said he was not sure if the plan's name will change.

Blue Shield of California has three million members and earns $10.5 billion in annual revenue, according to the news release.

"With the planned acquisition, Blue Shield will broaden total membership and provider networks and add Medicare members in Kern, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties for the first time," the news release said.

It also said GEMCare's Medicare business will stay with current contracts and commercial members will keep their current premiums until their next renewal.

Plan members with questions about the move can call 716-8800. GEMCare will send a letter to Medicare members and hold town hall meetings for them to discuss the change.

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