Fighting Poverty with Quality Health Care

Editor’s Note: Daniel J. Loepp is the president and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. The company is Michigan’s largest health plan and among the top 10 largest health insurers in the nation. Mr. Loepp is one of three speakers who will address The PuLSE Institute next CEO Forum on Poverty Series on June 10 at the Colony Club in downtown DetroitFor submission inquiries contact the Institute’s editor-in-chief Bankole Thompson at

By Daniel J. Loepp

There is a reason that Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, over the last 14 years, has provided more than $14 million to fund the operations of more than 50 free clinics in urban and rural communities across Michigan.

It’s that we know – based on our 80 years of experience covering people in Michigan with health insurance of all different types – that despite the prevalence of health insurance options for people in Michigan, there is always a need for a health care safety net. Poverty is a primary reason why.

Poverty is a barrier to so many things.  Educational opportunities.  Employment.  Health. Poverty stands between Michigan residents and healthy food.  It prevents people from having the ability to transport themselves to the doctor, or even the free clinic, for care.  It serves as an enabler of chronic health conditions, allowing them to fester and grow into medical emergencies that cost too much money and too many lives.

If you are sick or have a chronic disease, a medical emergency can debilitate not just your health, but also your financial security.  This is particularly true if you are uninsured. What can be done?  In the immediate term, we at Blue Cross are committed to covering the most people possible, and supporting the community-based organizations that serve as the safety net for tens of thousands who find themselves on the outside looking in.

We begin with covering people.  Covering everyone, regardless of pre-existing conditions, has been a hallmark of our company’s approach to care since 1939.  Covering people everywhere in Michigan, in every neighborhood in every zip code, has been our approach for decades.  We continue to be the only insurer to offer ACA plans in all 83 Michigan counties consistently since the start of the Affordable Care Act.  We also advocated for the expansion of Medicaid, and have partnered with the State of Michigan, to offer our Blue Cross Complete coverage for Medicaid-eligible people in more counties in our state.

To strengthen the safety net, Blue Cross partners with more than 50 clinics across Michigan, we’ve provided free or low-cost medical and dental treatment for uninsured and underinsured. Over more than three decades, through our Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation, we’ve worked with many organizations and provided more than $48 million for health care research and innovative programs statewide.

And we’ve paid $440 million toward a $1.56 billion total commitment over 18 years to the Michigan Health Endowment Fund, which aims to improve health and wellness of vulnerable people across our state.

We also understand that people need access to employment and vibrant communities for well-being and good health. This is why we’ve based our operations in the urban cores of Detroit, Lansing, Grand Rapids, Marquette and Traverse City, including doubling the size of our downtown Detroit employee base. I see this as part of our mission.  Our contribution of $5 million to support inclusive development in Detroit’s neighborhoods fits in the same mold. These efforts are just some of the ways we protect the health and well-being of Michigan’s residents, especially as health care costs continue to soar, outpacing inflation.

Promoting affordable care is the next frontier of our efforts – and will have a positive impact on the ability of people at all income levels to access quality healthcare in our state.  For example, Blue Cross has been working with doctors and hospitals over the past 15 years to lead the evolution of health care delivery toward value and better quality, helping more people get the right care in the right setting at the right time. We’ve saved more than $2.2 billion in the process, and we’re seeing the results as costs come down for our customers.

We kept our ACA plans affordable in 2018 with their lowest rate increases since the start of the ACA.  We reduced our Medicare Advantage rates by an average of 15 percent in 2018.  And we run our business to return the most money possible to health care – with a zero percent operating margin over the last 10 years.

Now, we’re putting our foot on the gas and working even harder to improve access, including ensuring doctors and hospitals are fully engaged on the issue of affordability. The bottom line is that no parent should have to choose not to send their sick child to the doctor when they are ill.

No one should be forced to rely on constant trips to the emergency room, after waiting too long to see a medical professional because they can’t afford well visits. And no one should fear being without health care for themselves of their family because they lose their job.

We must all work together so that everyone, regardless of income, has access to health care because it’s the right thing to do. Blue Cross will continue to do that, as we have for 80 years, and we challenge everyone to get engaged to ensure health care is affordable and available for all.

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