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BC/BS of WNY seeks affiliation with Pittsburgh healthcare giant

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Western New York

It sounds like a corporate merger, but local HealthNow officials say it is an affilliation agreement, not a takeover.

BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York is currently an independent health insurer. Both HealthNow and Pittsburgh-based Highmark Health are nonprofit providers of BC/BS, although Highmark is much larger.

Highmark is a giant in the business, with perhaps six times as many members as HealthNow, eight times as many employees, and its own dental insurance and hospital network of 2,500 doctors, reaching to Westfield in Chautauqua County.

In a move that still needs approval from New York and Pennsylvania state regulators, BC/BS would become affiliated with Highmark.

HealthNow and Highmark are already working together along the state line, because thousands of New Yorkers get their health care through Highmark and thousands of Pennsylvania residents get theirs through HealthNow.

HealthNow said it needs mass providers to deal with the costs of health care.

"I believe that COVID is a good example of why we really felt this strategy of being part of something larger is so important," said Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy and Growth Officer Dr. Mike Edbauer. "Being a larger organization makes it easier to adjust to unexpected occurrences like COVID, as well as the day-to-day challenges within the healthcare area."

Edbauer said the goal is to maintain the current local BC/BS employment of 2,000, mostly at its office complex in downtown Buffalo. He said the affiliation will also preserve local care.

"It really allows us to maintain the Blue Cross/Blue Shield here in Western New York, the Blue Shield in Northeastern New York that people have become accustomed to and it continues that same service, that same level of care, he said. "In fact, there are many Highmark members who currently receive care in our markets and many of our HealthNow members who receive care in the Highmark markets. So it will really be a continuation of that at the care level."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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