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HealthNow's cuts to boost efficiency

HealthNow New York is cutting 45 jobs, mostly in claims, as the Buffalo-based health insurer continues efforts to use technology to become more efficient and streamline operations.

The parent of BlueCross Blue-Shield of Western New York and BlueShield of Northeastern New York notified staff Monday of the planned cuts.

Besides claims, other affected positions are in billing and enrollment, as well as some administrative personnel, said Thomas Fentner, senior vice president of human resources and administrative services.

Fentner said the reduction will take weeks to "wind its way out" and the individuals who ultimately lose jobs may change, as the company must give notice and then work through "a rather extensive process" with affected workers "bumping" others with less seniority.

The company also has "close to" 60 open positions, so affected workers may be considered for those jobs if they qualify, he added.

"We encourage people to update their skills as the business changes so they have the opportunity to move into these positions," he said.

Fentner said the layoffs are "not a cost-cutting move," but a result of HealthNow's ongoing efforts to become more efficient and effective in serving its employer clients and individual members.

"If we were just cost-cutting, we would put a freeze on jobs," he said. "This is just our continuing evolution of our business to become more efficient and reduce any duplication."

In particular, he said, it reflects the company's increased use of technology to process claims.

"Technology enables us to do it quicker, more accurately and at less cost," he said. "As we do that, we're able to perform at a higher level, so we don't need the positions that do it manually. So we take those resources and allocate them somewhere else in the company."

He also denied that the company was cutting jobs because of any loss in membership.

The company won't have final audited membership numbers for Jan. 1 until early to mid-February, he said, citing the rush of renewal and enrollment activity right now. But "we think we're pretty much where we need to be," he said.

"It'll take us a month or so to sort it out. There's always movement this time of year," he said. "But we're comfortable with where our membership is going to end up."

e-mail: jepstein@buffnews.com

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