- Associated Press - Thursday, February 19, 2015

Sanford Health Plan will be taking over as the primary health insurance provider for approximately 65,000 people in North Dakota after the state workers’ retirement system on Thursday ended its decades-old relationship with the state’s Blue Cross Blue Shield affiliate.

The new plan, which takes effect July 1, involves about 29,000 contracts covering current and retired public employees and their families, roughly 65,000 people.

Health insurance premiums will still go up over the two years of the contract but about 5 percentage points less than expected: 14.7 percent with Sanford Health versus 19 to 20 percent under Blue Cross, said Sparb Collins, executive director of the North Dakota Public Employees Retirement System.

“We go out to bid, and as part of the bidding process, the Sanford plan offered us the same arrangement at a lower price,” Collins said. “It’s the same plan design that they have today. So the coverage remains the same.”

Rich Adcock, executive vice president of Sanford Health, said upward of 97 percent of the providers in the existing retirement system’s insurance network are already part of Sanford’s network. He added that the roughly 3 percent of providers who fall in the gap will be offered the opportunity to join Sanford’s network.

Sanford will begin to communicate with its soon-to-be members to explain how the transition will roll out, including the issuance of new insurance cards.

Adcock said Sanford is “highly confident” in its ability to handle the contract of North Dakota’s largest employer group.

This is the biggest contract yet for the Dakotas-based insurer, which will now cover 110,000 people in North Dakota - 15 percent of the state’s population. Sanford entered the insurance market in North Dakota in 2010 and currently insures about 45,000 in the state.

The retirement system’s switch ends a 37-year connection with Blue Cross Blue Shield. Pat Bellmore, chief marketing officer for BCBS in the state, said the insurer believes its proposal “provided the best value possible” and warned of a “significant impact” that the move will have on the company’s 1,000 North Dakota employees, including a team dedicated to servicing to public workers, retirees and their families.

“We want to assure NDPERS members that we will be working to ensure the smoothest transition possible, with the fervent hope that we will be able to provide health benefits to this group again in the future,” Bellmore said.

Sanford is in the process of opening offices in Fargo and Bismarck and expects to have more than 100 positions available immediately in the state.

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Associated Press writer Carson Walker in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, contributed to this report.


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