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The Bottom Line: Brokers earn bonuses, vacations to keep companies from switching from Blue Cross

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — New documents obtained by Target 3 investigators reveal how Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois uses its vast resources to incentivize sales staff to grow and retain its customer base.

Brokers who lose more than five percent of their business could see a big impact to their own bottom line, and many of those brokers have dug in and fought hard to keep companies from bailing on Blue Cross.

The lucrative pay scale could help to explain why several local insurance brokers have used aggressive tactics in targeting large employers in the area, and in some cases, have even obstructed or refused to help those same companies switch their insurance plan.

Complaints started piling up in recent months after workers told their employers about their struggles navigating a dead-end directory of doctors on the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois website. Other workers ran into complications trying to schedule appointments with a new ‘in-network’ doctor after Blue Cross Blue Shield broke up with Springfield Clinic.

According to emails reviewed by Target 3 investigators, some brokers have instructed business owners to encourage their workers to switch medical providers instead of changing insurance plans. Other brokers have offered assurances that the Blue Cross Blue Shield’s depleted network of specialists is still adequate and meets state standards, though the Illinois Department of Insurance has not yet completed its investigation or made any such determination.

Other brokers have warned employers if they switch off of Blue Cross, their employees will eventually be forced to pay higher premiums. One broker even refused to help a large employer group switch from Blue Cross, and claimed he was unable to facilitate that transition.

“Brokers seem so hellbent on putting their thumb on the scale for Blue Cross,” one local employer said, who asked not to be named in a story that has caused so much added stress for their workers. The employer claimed the broker initially refused to show them health plans from other insurance providers that compete with Blue Cross, and only caved after the employer threatened to fire them and find another broker.

According to a compensation packet titled ‘The Blue Leaders Program,’ the largest health insurance provider in Illinois offers big annual bonuses, recurring commission checks, and lavish destination vacations to insurance brokers if they can keep employers from canceling Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance plans for their workers.

“We realize that our success is due in part to producers like you, and we thank you,” the document says. “We also invite you to reap the rewards of your success and be recognized for your hard work and dedication through the Blue Leaders Program.”

New and Returning Sales Bonuses

The tiered rewards program pays brokers a bonus for every new employer group they sign, and offers a separate bonus for every employee at that company that pays a monthly premium. In other words, the bigger the company, the bigger the broker’s initial sales bonus. But that’s only the beginning of the unique compensation package.

“By combining our commission rates with the bonus you can earn through our Blue Leaders Program, there’s no limit to your income potential,” the document says.

Regular commission payments compensate brokers with a percentage of the monthly cost of the medical and dental premiums. In addition, insurance brokers can also earn signing bonuses worth up to $75,000 for each new company they sign with Blue Cross, and up to $30,000 for each current customer they sign to stay enrolled on a Blue Cross plan.

Annual Bonuses

At the end of each year, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois tallies up how many clients signed and stayed in a broker’s book of business. The more companies that leave Blue Cross, the faster the broker’s annual bonus percentage would drop.

If the broker kept 95% or more of their employer groups enrolled in Blue Cross, that broker’s annual bonus would pay out at a maximum of five percent of their annual premium. The company allows brokers to earn up to $200,000 in this category.

However, if more than five percent of the broker’s book of business opts to switch to another insurance provider, that broker’s bonus starts to shrink. If more than 20% of a broker’s clients change plans, their annual bonus would vanish entirely.

The Illinois Broker Bonus Program incentivizes brokers to keep companies and their workers enrolled in Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois medical and dental plans.

Officials at Springfield Clinic say they have continued to negotiate with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois to reach a deal that would bring its 650 doctors and nurses back in-network, and reconnect tens of thousands of patients with their preferred physicians.

Other doctors who have relented to Blue Cross Blue Shield’s negotiation tactics in the past were furious when they learned the insurance company was using a portion of its stockpiled profits to pay big bonuses out to brokers who continue to grow their market share and drive provider rates even lower.

At a House State Government Administration Hearing on Wednesday night, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois officials acknowledged its parent company has stockpiled more than $20 billion in profits.



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