CEO of CareFirst to retire next year

Chet Burrell will retire next year as president and CEO of CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield after more than a decade heading the region’s largest insurer.

“A decade of service to the mission of CareFirst has, for me, passed quickly,” the 70-year-old Burrell said in a statement. “No matter the demands, it was never ‘work’ to me, as I felt drawn forward by our organization’s purpose, by our mission, by our cause.”

Burrell was tapped to head CareFirst in 2007 when he was leading an electronic claims-processing firm. At the time, the board was looking for someone to usher the company into the digital age. Burrell also had founded and led Novalis Corp., a health and technology consulting firm, and was familiar with Blue Cross and Blue Shield from having served as an executive at its affiliates in New York.

“Chet joined the company at a critical juncture for the organization and led a transformational makeover of the organization, our programs and technology that has allowed us to dramatically improve how we serve our members and navigate a turbulent time in health care,” said Stephen L. Waechter, chair of the board of directors of CareFirst Inc., in a statement. “At the same time, he brought a passionate, thoughtful approach to the role of fulfilling our company’s not-for-profit mission that has benefited all of the communities we serve.”

Helping the insurer improve its information technology systems was one of many achievements he is credited with during his tenure. CareFirst also adopted a concept called the patient-centered medical home model, which encouraged primary care doctors to work more closely with people, particularly those with chronic medical conditions, to prevent expensive medical interventions. Doctors were paid more if they could improve patient care while reducing the overall cost of their care.

The concept was adopted by others in the health industry, said Patricia M.C. Brown, senior vice president of managed care and population health for Johns Hopkins Medicine.

“I remember when Chet came to town, he had a lot of work to do,” Brown said. “There was a lot of need for some business (and process) changes and he led all those changes very effectively.”

Like many insurance executives, he was often at odds with hospital leaders and could be found at state meetings fighting requests to raise hospital rates.

At the same time, CareFirst faced criticism when asking to raise rates on its own customers. The criticism has been stronger in recent months as the uncertainty in the market as Congress and Donald J. Trump work to repeal Obamacare has prompted CareFirst to seek even bigger increases.

Maryland Insurance Commissioner Al Redmer said even though they sometimes disagreed on rate increases, Burrell was a passionate and clear communicator of his company’s vision.

“Often times we have different specific interests, but in general he has found a nice balance of advocating nicely for his employer and assuming the fiduciary interests of his employer, but keeping in mind the general balance of the state as a whole and the health care needs of Maryland as a whole.”

CareFirst serves 3.2 million individuals and groups in Maryland, the District of Columbia and Northern Virginia.

“In searching for a successor, we will seek an executive with the skills and experience to both lead the organization, and help us meet our unique not-for-profit mission,” Waechter said.

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