Board Spotlight: JD Hickey, CEO Of BlueCross BlueShield Of Tennessee

by Alicia Caramencio

February 7, 2017

Meet BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee (BCBST). It is the largest health plan in Tennessee, serving more than 3.4 million members. Dr. JD Hickey is CEO, and one of AHIP’s new board members. He recently spoke with us about his career journey and his health plan’s goals and values.

With dual medical and law degrees, how has your background influenced your work as CEO of BCBST?

Hickey: There’s a saying about being a jack of all trades but master of none… I don’t think you’d want me scrubbing in for surgery or leading a jury trial.

But really, our team is full of experts who love to dig into the details of everything from contracts and regulations to clinical quality metrics. My background understanding of both landscapes helps me support our people, which is one of my most important roles.

How did you make the decision to become involved as a member of the AHIP Board?

Hickey: Our company has been active with AHIP for a long time, so there was never any question about whether I’d want to deepen my own participation by serving as a board member. I see it as an extension of serving our BlueCross members.

AHIP advocates effectively on behalf of millions of Americans, both those with commercial health coverage and those in Medicare Advantage or managed Medicaid plans. It’s our collective job to make sure people have access to affordable coverage and quality care.

And I trust that under Marilyn’s [Tavenner] leadership, the AHIP team will continue their unparalleled record of positive impact.

What does the future of healthcare look like for patients, health plans, and providers?

Hickey: That’s a great question, and I believe AHIP can play a role in driving positive answers. The potential for change in health care over the next three-five years could be even bigger than what we saw after the passage of the Affordable Care Act.

Our experience in Tennessee has shown there’s plenty of opportunity for improvement, especially in the unstable individual market. But we’ve also seen how change can be disruptive. Whenever possible, we want to minimize disruption as much as we can for our state and for our members.

Health plans have become accustomed to change as an everyday reality, and I’m confident we will step up to help lead a stable transition.

What are some new initiatives or projects you’re leading at BCBST?

Hickey: We continue to make great strides in our clinical quality programs – we’re all very proud of achieving 4-Star ratings for our Medicare Advantage, Commercial PPO and Medicaid plans – and continued improvement is a top priority. A big part of that is accelerating our efforts to bring more and more providers into value-based reimbursement contracts. Changing the incentive structure to reward positive outcomes is the right thing to do for our members, and we can see that it’s working.

Improving population health through philanthropic investments is another key effort. The BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Health Foundation is actually one of the largest private foundations in the state and it’s the only one focused on health. That presents a tremendous opportunity for impact. One important example is our work to combat the misuse and abuse of prescription opioids.

Looking internally, I’m proud of our culture of inclusion, which helps us better understand and serve our increasingly diverse membership. We’re also putting a lot of effort into our career development programs to ensure we grow and retain top talent.

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee’s focus is on people and relationships. Why is this so important to the organization?

Hickey: Our mission is peace of mind through better health. That’s something we can only deliver on because of our great people who treat every customer, colleague and business partner with empathy and respect.

Our employees live and work alongside the people we serve, so we understand their values and aspirations and struggles. Being of and for Tennessee is at our core, and it’s why so many individuals and companies trust us to manage their health coverage.

This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.