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DETROIT, April 15, 2005  - The Blue Cross Blue Shield member ID card is one of the most recognized cards in the world -- widely accepted in Michigan, across the country and even in some foreign countries. Now Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and its HMO affiliate, Blue Care Network, are undertaking the largest effort in their history to reissue their member cards in order to comply with new laws which are aimed at reducing identity theft.

"By the end of the year we expect to issue 4 million new cards that have had Social Security numbers replaced with member contract numbers that are randomly assigned," said Joan Budden, Michigan Blues vice president of Operational Effectiveness.

Budden said the massive effort represents the Michigan Blues response to several developments:

    * Growing consumer demand for greater privacy and control over personal information, such as Social Security numbers

    * A decision by the national Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association that all Blues plans across the nation would drop Social Security numbers from ID cards

    * New laws enacted in several states recently, including Michigan, that regulate how businesses and organizations make public use of Social Security numbers

Jeanne Carlson, Blue Care Network senior vice president and chief operating officer, reinforced the urgency of the effort. "We refreshed ID cards in the past to reflect a new feature or design, but it's never been more important that our members take note of this effort and destroy their old cards," Carlson said.

Budden said the current effort reduces the public use of Social Security numbers by replacing ID cards and also discontinues their use on external documents such as letters and member Explanation of Benefit forms that could be lost or stolen.

"External use of the numbers on these documents will be eliminated by us by the end of the year. However, like financial institutions, employers and many government agencies, we will continue to reference Social Security numbers in our internal databases," said Budden.

The new cards will be sent to members between now and the end of 2005, with many members receiving their cards at their employer group's annual renewal time. An estimated 400,000 new cards will be distributed each month until all members have new cards for use by Jan. 1, 2006.

The Michigan Blues began the card conversion process in 2004, and so far have issued more than 1 million new cards to members in national employer groups and to members in states outside of Michigan whose new laws now require the change.

"We want our members to know that the cards are being reissued in stages so we don't overwhelm our systems or incur unnecessary costs for the project," Budden said. "The cost for reissuing cards and reprogramming multiple claims and membership systems to accept the new random numbers is approximately $19 million. It is a mammoth project as Social Security numbers have been used to process health care claims for decades."

The Blues said the major reprogramming effort is worth the challenge and the cost. "We have always taken the privacy of our members very seriously," Budden said.

(NOTE: The Blues have just over 4.7 million members. The number of cards issued is lower -- 4 million -- because many dependents do not carry separate cards.)

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit corporation, provides or administers health care benefits to more than 4.7 million members through a variety of plans: Traditional Blue Cross Blue Shield; Blue Preferred, Community Blue and Healthy Blue PPOs; Blue Choice Point of Service; Blue Care Network HMO, and Blue HSAsm plans compatible with health savings accounts. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Blue Care Network are nonprofit corporations and independent licensees of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. For more information, visit www.bcbsm.com.
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