Premera to invest $50 million in individual insurance market, rural health care, and behavioral health

On Monday, Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alaska announced its plan to invest $50 million to support Alaska’s individual insurance market, increase access to care in rural areas, and collaborate with communities to address behavioral health issues.

The $50 million will be invested over 5 years and comes in addition to Premera’s one-time $25 million reimbursement to fund high-cost health insurance claims announced in December. Premera is the only insurer available on the state’s individual health insurance market and covers approximately 20,000 people.

Specifically, the investment will go toward:

  • Customers and market stability, including investments to ensure continued stability of the Alaska individual market. The tax savings are expected to trigger premium rebates for individual and small group customers under the medical loss ratio provision of the Affordable Care Act. Premera also expects to return approximately $1.5 million in taxes charged to large group customers in 2018.
  • Improved access to health care in rural areas, including initiatives to attract and support health care providers in rural areas as well as offering enhanced telemedicine and tele-psychiatry programs.
  • Behavioral health, including nearly $8 million commitment over five years to support efforts across Alaska to address a wide variety of behavioral health issues such as addiction and adverse childhood experiences, with a specific focus on how these issues impact homelessness.

The $50 million investment was made possible by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed in December 2017. Prior to the 2017 Tax Reform Act, health insurers had been required to pay federal taxes as part of the Tax Reform Act of 1986. A provision of the new act directs the federal government to return some of those tax payments to certain companies over a four-year period.

“This unexpected tax refund is an opportunity for us to look beyond our own business needs and address critical issues in the communities where we live and work,” said Jim Grazko, President and General Manager of Premera’s Alaska office.

In a press release, Lori Wing-Heier, Director of the Alaska Division of Insurance, said,

“This is welcome news for Alaskans who endure some of the highest health insurance costs in the nation. We look forward to learning more details about the premium rebates for individual and small group customers and the tax refunds that will be returned to large group customers.”