Name change forced on health plan

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The Independent Online
A COMPANY set up to market a new range of private health schemes in the UK hopes to go ahead with the launch despite being forced to drop the famous Blue Cross name, write Maria Scott and Sue Fieldman.

The Chicago-based Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, the largest private health insurance provider in the US, has obtained a written agreement from the directors of Benchplace that it will not use the names Blue Cross or Blue Shield on its health insurance products in the UK. It had intended to sell health insurance under the trading name Blue Cross Preferred Hospital Plan. Ian Starr, a partner in solicitors Clifford Chance, who represented the US organisation, said there was no evidence of any deliberate attempt by the UK company to mislead, but Blue Cross in the US was worried about possible confusion in the UK.

The American Blue Cross organisation does not market health insurance plans directly to the public in the UK, but its name is known here, especially to US citizens.

Blue Cross Preferred Hospital Plan was to be launched on 3 February. Niel Roberts, a director of Benchplace, said his company had been formed to launch the products on behalf of a Hong Kong company. 'It is our intention to launch the plans under a different name,' he said.

Further details would be announced shortly. A number of people have already paid deposits of between pounds 1,000 and pounds 2,000 to Benchplace in order to secure the right to organise sales of the insurance plans in certain regions of the UK.

In a separate development, The Blue Cross, the British animal welfare charity, has also become concerned about use of the Blue Cross name. Alan Kennard, secretary of The Blue Cross, said: 'We are a charity and do not want people to confuse a charity with a commercial organisation.'

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