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Blue Cross cleared to acquire Lovelace Health Plan on Sunday

blueALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The sale of Lovelace Health Plan’s Medicare Advantage and commercial businesses to Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Mexico, announced last November, will close Sunday.

The deal was expected to be finalized by the end of last year, but federal Department of Justice approval took longer than expected.

Lovelace sold its Medicaid business, which covered 84,000 people, to Molina Healthcare of New Mexico last year.

The companies declined to disclose details of the transaction, including the price.

Blue Cross CEO Kurt Shipley told the Journal in an interview Wednesday that the transaction will give his company a much larger share of the Medicare and Albuquerque-area commercial markets.

Blue Cross will acquire about 28,000 Medicare customers to add to its existing 3,500 Medicare base and will add about 70,000 commercial customers, most of them in the Albuquerque area.

The company covered about 400,000 individuals before the transaction.

Lovelace said last year that it decided to sell all of its insurance operations after the state rejected its bid to provide managed care services to Medicaid recipients. Lovelace said the business became too small to compete effectively.

Lovelace’s hospitals, clinics and pharmacies are not included in the sale, but Lovelace’s medical operations are part of the Blue Cross Blue Shield provider network under terms of a long-term agreement.

Shipley said Lovelace customers’ existing policies will continue unchanged until they are due to be renewed.

He said he expects the transition from Lovelace to Blue Cross to go smoothly since the companies have had so much time to prepare.

“Since we announced it a while ago, we’ve already seen a lot of accounts switch over to Blue Cross rather than renew with Lovelace,” he said. “A lot of larger groups have already been looking at coming to Blue Cross early.”

But much of the customer data Blue Cross requires to begin serving new members could not be transferred until the deal was concluded.

“There are a lot of logistical things that have to take place,” he said.

Once those steps are completed, former Lovelace members will receive Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance cards and “welcome letters,” he said.

Shipley said Lovelace customers will be able to use all services as of Sunday.