Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota is opening a new office in northeast Minneapolis, where the company expects to employ about 100 people within a year’s time, the Eagan-based health insurer said Monday.

About 30 current employees will be shifted to the new office, said company spokesman Jim McManus. Blue Cross plans to hire at least 70 people going forward to work in what will be the insurer’s first office in Minneapolis.

Blue Cross is expecting growth in Hennepin County and elsewhere — more than 100,000 enrollees statewide — as the health insurer plays a much bigger role as an HMO in the state’s public health insurance programs.

The new office will be located about 1 mile from the headquarters of UCare, which has cut more than 200 jobs due to a dramatic downsizing of its role next year in the state’s Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare programs.

This fall, the state Department of Human Services (DHS) finalized contracts in the programs that will force more than 350,000 people to shift from UCare to other managed care organizations for coverage starting next year.

“This space offers a more accessible location for those seeking employment in and near the area,” Blue Cross CEO Michael Guyette said in a statement. “It’s similar to the model we have implemented with great success in attracting local talent at our northern offices on the Iron Range.”

Of the proximity to UCare, McManus wrote in an e-mail: “We evaluated several locations within Minneapolis and determined that this building best met our needs.”

In the summer, DHS announced preliminary results from a competitive bidding process that’s shaking up the roster of HMOs and country-based groups that manage care for enrollees in the public health insurance programs. The state said the new contracts will save taxpayers about $450 million next year.

Currently, UCare is the largest HMO in the public programs, but bid documents released earlier this month show the insurer’s bid for the business starting next year came with a much higher price tag than bids from competitors.

Blue Cross has not been an option for public program enrollees in Hennepin County in 25 years, the company said Monday. Changes for enrollees in the state’s most populous county are coming next year not just because of UCare’s departure, but also because Bloomington-based HealthPartners will no longer be an option for most Hennepin County residents in the programs.

At the new office, Blue Cross workers will support all business lines, with staff focused on customer service and handling claims across all of the company’s operations. It’s scheduled to open in January. Most of the service and claims work, however, will still be handled at Blue Cross locations in St. Louis County.

Public health insurance enrollees have the choice of receiving benefits through one of either two or three managed care organizations in their county, depending on where they live. If enrollees don’t select a plan, they are placed into their county’s default health plan.

Currently, the HMO division of Blue Cross — which is called Blue Plus — is not the default plan anywhere in the state but will gain that status in 34 counties for Medical Assistance enrollees and 12 counties for people in MinnesotaCare.

“We are estimating that our enrollment growth will be over 100,000 new members in 2016,” said Patsy Riley, the chief government officer at Blue Cross.

Minnetonka-based Medica is becoming the default health plan in 38 new counties for Medical Assistance and 48 new counties for MinnesotaCare. The insurer has projected enrollment growth of 110,000 people.

Medical Assistance is the state’s name for Medicaid, which covers people with incomes at or below the poverty line. MinnesotaCare provides coverage for a slightly higher income group often described as the “working poor.”


Twitter: @chrissnowbeck