The has opened four $10 million competitions so far in its short history: the Ansari Prize, for suborbital spaceflight; the Archon Prize for genome sequencing; the Progressive Prize for the best 100 mile per gallon vehicle; and the Google Prize, to put a lunar vehicle on the moon. While the latter two remain unclaimed, there’s now another to add to the group: The WellPoint Prize, for solutions to the United States’ muddled healthcare system.

In some respects, it may be the most challenging competition yet.

The prize is sponsored by the WellPoint Foundation, a non-profit that’s funded by WellPoint, the massive health insurance company that is the largest component of BlueCross / BlueShield. Competitors are challenged to come up with ideas to improve the cost and quality of health care in the US, which is currently a burning political issue. It’s also a challenge that has confounded both the public and private sector for many years.

Interestingly, this X-Prize seems to have the strongest commercial component of any yet. While the WellPoint Foundation is non-profit, its parent corporation will be the one “testing” the solutions entrants offer in its state markets.

One can’t help but feel that WellPoint, worried about the debate over national health insurance, wants to pre-emptively change its own business, and has simply figured out a clever way to do so while looking purely philanthropic.

Whatever the case may be, a better healthcare system is sorely needed, and any results from the competition will be publicly reported — so other healthcare organizations will certainly be free to imitate. Potential entrants can start developing their ideas now, although the contest has yet to establish firm guidelines.