State’s largest insurer appoints Sarah Iselin as CEO

“Sarah is a gifted leader who is smart, strategic and passionate about improving healthcare,” Dreyfus said in a statement. “She knows our business, our culture and our values, and I look forward to working closely with her on an effective transition over the coming months.”

Iselin steps into the role at a turbulent time in healthcare. Hospitals have increasingly consolidated and, rocked by years of COVID-related upheaval, are demanding higher reimbursements. Meanwhile, many in the state have complained that health care is becoming increasingly unaffordable. She will oversee the insurer’s 2.9 million members and more than $8 billion in annual revenue, amid grumbling from some in the hospital sector over the insurer’s revenue. Last week, Blue Cross announced that it would give customers $13 million in rebates.

In an interview, Iselin said providers in all markets were struggling to emerge from COVID, but it was the mission of insurers to ensure affordable access to healthcare.

“Having now worked in several other markets, I’ve been able to see other competitive dynamics – how other plans are thinking about some of the big strategic questions, how to best engage consumers to create that optimal experience, how to partner with the better with suppliers,” she says. “And after working as a regulator, I’m really able to put myself in a lot of different people’s shoes, and I’ll bring that back to Massachusetts.”

Iselin has a long resume in Massachusetts health care, but she first went to school to study photography. Growing up in Washington, DC, with parents who worked in the nuclear arms control community, her response was to go to art school, she said.

She moved to Boston after earning her bachelor’s degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and got an entry-level job with the Visiting Nurse Association. There, she fell in love with health care.

She later served as director of healthcare finance for the Massachusetts Hospital Association, where she first worked with Dreyfus. They both later moved to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation and then to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, where she worked as Chief of Staff for Health Care Services.

Dreyfus, she said, was a profound influence and mentor throughout her career.

“I consider myself lucky to be one of the many leaders in this community and nationally that he also mentored,” she said.

Iselin also served as Commissioner of the State Division of Health Care Finance and Policy, where she helped implement the Massachusetts Health Care Reform Act of 2006. She returned to the BCBSMA in 2010 as chair of the insurer’s charitable arm, then was named senior vice president of strategy, policy and community partnerships for the insurer, according to her LinkedIn page.

Iselin left Blue Cross in 2014 to oversee patches for the state health insurance market, the Health Connector, amid technical and performance issues that plagued the system as it transitioned from a market state-based to a market-compliant Affordable Care Act. She then worked for Optum, which the state also hired to help with connector issues.

In 2016, she joined Florida Blue in leadership positions and became chief operating officer at Blue Shield of California in 2021, a nonprofit Blue plan with 4.7 million members and $23 billion in revenue. annual.

“Sarah is the right person to lead our organization into the future,” BCBSMA Board Chair Dorothy Puhy said in a statement. “She is a seasoned and innovative healthcare leader who combines a deep understanding of our industry and the Blues system, a passion for making healthcare simpler and more affordable, and a familiarity with our business and the unique role that she plays in Massachusetts health care. ”

Iselin will oversee Blue Cross’ required entry into the subsidized ConnectorCare market beginning in 2024. It was unclear whether this would mark an opening to also enter the Medicaid market for the first time. Iselin said she won’t start the job until December and the company is still looking for any market opportunities in the normal course of business.

She said the company will look at growth opportunities overall, though the BCBSMA remains focused on Massachusetts.

Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, worked with Iselin during her tenure as commissioner of the Health Care Finance and Policy Division and said she was helpful to small businesses while working on the implementation of Romneycare.

He said his first job should be to assess why so many small businesses shun plans where the insurer pays claims. Hurst noted that this is likely due to overly high and ever-increasing bonuses.

“How much did the BCBSMA lose from these [people]and what to do to re-attract [them] under their umbrella and that of other insurers? said Hurst.

Many in the healthcare industry applauded Iselin’s appointment, including Lora Pellegrini, chief executive of the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans, who called her a “thoughtful and compassionate leader.”

Amy Rosenthal, executive director of Health Care for All, which advocates for better access to health care, said, “At a time when Massachusetts continues to face persistent and significant affordability challenges, health care access and equity, she is a strong leader in guiding BCBS and building on the significant and collaborative successes of the company and its partners.

Jessica Bartlett can be contacted at Follow her on Twitter @ByJessBartlett.

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