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Anne Law

WellPoint taps hospital veteran as CEO

by Anne Law | Dun & Bradstreet Editor

February 13, 2013 | 1 Comment »

ceoHealth insurer WellPoint hopes that appointing hospital executive Joseph Swedish as its new CEO will keep its operations fit as a fiddle.

WellPoint’s unusual move of appointing a non-managed-care exec highlights the varying tactics and strategies being taken by companies facing health reform implementation.

Swedish is the former CEO of the 50-hospital Trinity Health system, and WellPoint — one of the largest operators of Blue Cross Blue Shield health plans in the US — believes that Swedish will help the company facilitate quality, efficiency, and data sharing collaborations with care providers.

While investors may show some initial shock at the move, the line between health care providers and managed care plans has been increasingly blurring since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act took effect in 2010, and WellPoint’s executive pick is just one example of how health insurers are scrambling to make the most out of impending regulatory changes.

WellPoint’s mission statement entitled “Improving Your Health” echoes other insurers’ and care providers’ goals across the industry: All parties are focused on controlling health care costs and improving the quality of care. Initiatives typically include creating easier access to care, implementing efficiency and data management programs, and promoting wellness, preventative care, and case management programs.

When you look at these lofty ambitions – none of which can be achieved without collaboration across all industry players — it makes perfect sense for a health plan to bring in a hospital executive. Swedish, who will take over from interim CEO John Cannon on March 25, just might provide the edge WellPoint needs to get ahead of the game.

I think we’re going to see more of this. You already have hospital systems buying insurers, so it makes sense that the lines will continue to blur between health care providers and payers. If it increases efficiencies and quality, I’m all for it. I just wonder why, since this will function as a de facto nationalized health system, we didn’t just go that route in the first place.

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