Premera confirms job losses, but won’t say how many

MOUNTLAKE TERRACE — Premera Blue Cross is eliminating jobs, but the company won’t put a number on how many or release other details.

Premera, one of the largest health insurers in the state, has been fielding questions this week from reporters about layoffs, said Eric Earling, the company’s director of communications.

He acknowledged that the company is cutting jobs, but he declined to say how many. He also objected to the word “layoff,” calling it a loaded term.

“Let’s be really clear, I’m telling you rumors about widespread layoffs are simply not accurate,” Earling said. “I want to be fair. We’re like any other large business. At times, Premera makes changes in a highly competitive and changing environment.”

He said he’s also fielded questions about the Mountlake Terrace-headquartered insurer withdrawing from parts of its business, such as the individual market, where people purchase health insurance on their own. He said those rumors are also false.

“They’re just flat wrong,” Earling said.

Premera, which employs 3,800, provides health, life, vision, dental, disability and other types of insurance. The company’s management has been sorting through the rumors to “make sure we can give as accurate information as possible, as some of the rumors have been rather troublesome in their gross inaccuracy,” he said.

He said no one else at the company was available to talk about the job cuts, including CEO Jeff Roe.

Companies are required to report layoffs of 500 or more workers to the state 60 days before those layoffs occur, said Janelle Guthrie, communications director with the Washington Employment Security Division. Some companies voluntarily report smaller layoffs, because it may result in additional benefits for their workers.

Earling said the number of job cuts did not require the company to send a notice to the state.

Premera has experienced positive growth in terms of members. But insurers are under competitive pressure from businesses to keep costs low.

“We’re actually finishing the year with record membership,” Earling said. “We’re up to 2.1 million members.”

Premera made news earlier this year when the company announced that computer hackers had accessed confidential information for 11 million patients.

The company said the breach occurred May 5, 2014, but was not discovered until Jan. 29. Six weeks later — on March 17 — the company publicly acknowledged the cyber attack.

The breach could have exposed members’ names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, mailing and email addresses, phone numbers, member ID numbers and bank account information.

The information dates as far back as 2002 and affects users of Premera Blue Cross, Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alaska, and Vivacity and Connection Insurance Solutions.

Dan Catchpole contributed to this report.

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