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Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Utah says 1990 was the health insurer's best year in its history for earnings and membership growth.

The 48-year-old company reported 1990 net earnings of $10.01 million on operating revenues of $304.20 million with $265.92 million paid out in claims. That compares with net earnings of $9.14 million in 1989 and $797,000 in 1988."These gains are added to our reserves to continually ensure our ability to meet the claims of our subscribers in the future," said Jed H. Pitcher, president and chief executive officer.

He said the company set aside $400,000 in 1990 for the state's insurance guaranty fund, created in 1981 to protect subscribers of insolvent insurance companies. There have been seven such firms doing business in Utah, he said. As the state's largest health insurer, Blue Cross is the largest contributor to the fund.

Pitcher attributes the company's financial turnaround to "excellent control" of administrative expenses, internally managed care programs," and close monitoring of financial data.

"Our administrative expense was only 7 percent of gross operating revenue in 1990, which is one of the lowest among all Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies in the nation," he said.

A total of 28,097 Utahns joined Blue Cross in 1990 bringing the total to a record 422,030 members. He cited "competitive pricing, our extensive product line and our aggressive positioning in the market" for the increase.

Pitcher said year-end data show that all non-investigative claims (those not requiring physician follow-up or coordination of benefits with other insurers) were paid in an average of six days or less.