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BlueCross cutting jobs in face of losses [Chattanooga Times Free Press, Tenn.]

Sept. 02--BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee executives are trying to minimize employee layoffs as it seeks to carve 140 jobs from its TennCare division by November, a spokeswoman said.

Facing a projected $42 million deficit in its TennCare subsidiary this year, the insurer notified more than 100 employees Wednesday that their jobs are "in jeopardy," spokeswoman Mary Thompson said.

"We wanted to be as up front and provide as much of an advance notice as possible to employees that there is this potential for job reductions in the future," she said.

BlueCross, the state's largest insurer, hopes to minimize the number of jobs lost by not filling positions vacated by retirements and natural attrition, and by shifting employees into open positions in different departments, Thompson said.

In March, BlueCross cut 93 positions, but only eight employees ended up losing their jobs, she said.

"We hope to be able to achieve a similar trend" under the new cuts that go into effect Nov. 29, Thompson said.

More than 30 of the 140 spots identified for elimination this fall already have been handled without an employee getting laid off, she said.

Volunteer State Health Plan, BlueCross' TennCare subsidiary, is projected to lose $42 million in 2010, compared to a $95 million loss last year, Thompson said.

"We are making tough but necessary decisions to bring administrative costs under control and to be good stewards of the taxpayer dollars we receive for the TennCare program," she said.

Other efforts include the recent contract with Connecticut-based CareCentrix to administer TennCare benefits for durable medical equipment.

Statewide, TennCare spending on durable medical equipment, such as specialty wheelchairs and hearing aids, has risen 15 percent between 2008 and 2009, from $75.8 million to $87 million, said Carol Fite, spokeswoman for TennCare.

The move to contract out durable medical equipment benefits to CareCentrix has no direct correlation to the job cuts in BlueCross' TennCare division, Thompson said.

Earlier this year, BlueCross also reduced reimbursements by 14 percent to 12,800 specialists in the TennCare network, saving a projected $25 million, the Times Free Press reported.

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Copyright (c) 2010, Chattanooga Times Free Press, Tenn.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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