Michigan Blues go full steam ahead on health care reform implementation

Many observers were caught by surprise when the U.S. Supreme Court decided to uphold the entire Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — including the controversial individual mandate requiring all Americans to obtain health insurance.
But at the Michigan Blues, we’re moving full steam ahead with plans to ensure we are compliant and ready for health care reform.
In many ways, we’ve had the shortest distance to travel to become compliant with the law. For example, unlike most insurers, we already guarantee coverage to anyone who needs it and we’ve long practiced community rating which means we do not use health status to determine a premium rate. We also already exceed a new government requirement that says insurers must spend 80 cents of each premium dollar on medical expenses.

These are just some of the ways we were ready for change.  BCBSM also has been preparing vigorously in other areas from the day President Obama signed the law in 2010.

We’ve created a new business unit devoted entirely to preparing our company, customers and stakeholders for the many changes ahead. We’re also advising federal and state policymakers on how to create state insurance exchanges with consistent regulations to best serve consumers.

We’re taking several steps to help Michiganders be prepared for the law, including finding ways to make insurance more affordable for those who aren’t covered, and helping the uninsured understand how subsidies or rules that will expand Medicaid eligibility could help them purchase insurance on the exchange.

Whether you’re an individual consumer, a senior citizen, sales agent, employer or doctor, you can find more information about how health reform affects you at bcbsm.com/healthreform.

Photo credit Envios.

Daniel J. Loepp is president and chief executive officer of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

Relocating employees downtown reflects huge momentum swing for Detroit, RenCen (with slideshow)

The completion this week of our BLUnite project, which unifies 6,400 employees in our expanded downtown Detroit campus, was about many things: It puts an exclamation point on Blue Cross’ commitment to this city for the long term, and we realize a host of new real estate cost savings, operational efficiencies and other improvements. And after all the hard work by employees and the crews who made it happen, it’s a great reason to celebrate.

But as Tom Walsh points out in a Wednesday column in the Detroit Free Press, there is an element to this story that’s all too easily overlooked.

As he put it, our move of 3,400 employees constitutes “a remarkable change of fortune for the Renaissance Center and its chief occupant, General Motors, both engulfed in a sea of question marks just two short years ago.”

Thousands of Blues employees gathered for a lunchtime celebration Wednesday, enjoying the sounds of the Detroit Academy of Arts and Sciences choir, with many forming dance trains to the booming music from a DJ. Mayor Dave Bing and I spoke about how our project, along with similar moves from other companies, underlined the positive momentum under way in the city and helped form a “strong mass” of businesses in the city’s core.

This new, positive momentum is a stunning reversal from where we were just a few short years ago.

In 2009, when the auto industry was staggered by a weak economy, the very survival of our city, region and the American auto industry was in question. The auto industry affects all Michiganders either directly or indirectly, so everyone in Michigan – southeast Michigan in particular – would be affected by the outcome.

By mid-2010, as Tom Walsh writes in his column, GM decided against relocating its corporate headquarters out of the Renaissance Center. But it still had an issue with empty real estate in Towers 500 and 600.

It’s often said that timing is everything. I looked out my office window toward the Detroit River back then, saw those towers, and a question came to my mind: “What if…?”

Today marks nearly two years after we announced our plan to bring employees from the suburbs to the Renaissance Center. Today, the RenCen’s  occupancy rate is 93 percent, highest in its history. The RenCen, which has long served as an icon, representing Detroit to the nation, is literally full of life. And the auto industry is back on track, too.

The same can be said for downtown Detroit. Blue Cross is proud to join a growing list of companies that are putting stakes in the ground and betting on the city’s future.

We’re proud to be home in the D. And I’m proud to say, Detroit is open for business.

Take a look at photos from our BLUnite celebration below.

Daniel J. Loepp is president and chief executive of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

Jefferson Building Improvements Strengthen BCBSM’s Link With History (With Photo Slideshow)

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The March 1954 edition of the Blues’ employee newsletter devoted three pages to the company’s new Jefferson Building offices in Detroit, where some 700 employees were about to move into spacious, amenity-filled modern offices.

“As the time draws near for moving into our new building practically everyone is seeking answers to his or her own special problems,” the article began. “Highlights is going to tell you all about it — everything from elevators to electric lights and from banks to barber shops. You’ll like working in our new home.”

Nearly 58 years later, it gives me great honor to rededicate a building that serves as a living link to the Blues’ rich history of serving the people of the state of Michigan.

We recently took the wraps off our newly improved Jefferson Building. Construction crews have renovated the first floor and entrance of the building at Jefferson and Beaubien Street, adding a glass, storefront façade, modern high-tech collaboration spaces for employees and treadmill Walkstations where employees can exercise while they work.

The changes are intended to open the building up to the street and remake the “old lady,” as Highlights called it then, into a central tech hub of collaboration for our newly expanded downtown Detroit campus, which now stretches from the Renaissance Center Towers 500 and 600 to Lafayette Boulevard four blocks north.

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Live Downtown Residency Incentives are Helping to Rebuild Detroit

Efforts by engaged businesses and their activated employees to bring people to live where they work and play are breathing new life into downtownDetroit.

I spoke Tuesday at the annual luncheon meeting of the Downtown Detroit Partnership. As I look around at the progress we’ve made under the leadership of Cindy Pasky, I’ve never seen more buzz or tangible action on the streets.

Drawing Residents

The response to Live Downtown, a cash incentive program designed to bolster residency in the central business district and key adjoining neighborhoods, has been tremendous. In the first six months after we announced it in July 2011, we’ve approved more than 100 applications for new home purchases and rentals, existing rentals and home renovations. Another 250 employee applicants, including 50 pre-approved applicants, are in the pipeline.

More than three quarters of the applications to the program are coming from suburban residents who want to move into the city. At Blue Cross alone, we’ve had more than 12,000 hits to our internal Live Downtown website and nearly 200 employees who have applied for the program.

Live Downtown is a $4 million-plus initiative by the Blues, Compuware, Quicken Loans, DTE Energy and Strategic Staffing Solutions. Eligible participants can get a forgivable loan of up to $20,000 to purchase a home, $3,500 for a new rental and up to $5,000 for exterior renovations for projects worth at least $10,000.

Core Investments

Commitments from the five companies that sponsor Live Downtown have led to 7,000 additional jobs and roughly $120 million in new investment in Detroit since 2010.

This week, in fact, sees more than 280 BCBSM employees report for work for the first time at renovated offices in the Renaissance Center Tower 600. Another 305 will join them next week after relocating from Southfield, and by this summer, when our final moves have been completed, Blue Cross will have more than 6,300 employees on its unified downtown Detroit campus.

The moves add to the great progress we’re making at the DDP, a sampling of which are listed below (or read our 2012 Annual Report):

  • Developing a new Downtown Retail Strategy to work with downtown property owners with the goal of attracting 15 to 20 new retailers into Woodward Avenue storefronts by 2014
  • Supporting the Detroit Public Lighting Department as it retrofitted more than 1,000 streetlights to use energy-efficient LED lights in key areas of downtown
  • Launching D:hive, a collaborative effort to attract and retain new talent to Detroit through services including referrals, tours, real estate market information and start-up classes for aspiring entrepreneurs

While this is a great start, we’re nowhere near being done. The city’s current financial crisis shows that tough decisions — and far-sighted thinking and investment — are needed from business, residents and all who love Detroit.

But as I told Carol Cain for a recent Detroit Free Press column, I remain confident about the investments Blue Cross and others are making. If we work together in a sustained effort, momentum is on our side.

Daniel J. Loepp is president and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and the executive committee chairman of the Downtown Detroit Partnership.

Photo by utopiandreaming

How the New Entrepreneurial Spirit in Detroit Benefits All of Michigan

Even if you’re not in the habit of perusing business news, you owe it to yourself to read Inc. magazine’s comprehensive new series, “Innovation Hot Spots: Detroit.” The package of 15 stories (yes, you read that number right) about the city’s new startup culture crystallizes why so many people like me are bullish on the Motor City.

One of the headlines in this series puts it well: We are witnessing “A Whole New Groove for the Motor City” take shape. All of us who care about Detroit specifically and Michigan more broadly should feel excited about our region’s newfound sense of optimism and possibility.

Proud to Partner

I’ve written before about how we’re aligning our actions at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan with efforts to strengthen core cities like Detroit — by relocating roughly 3,000 suburban employees to downtown, by being part of the Live Downtown residency initiative, and by partnering with local vendors to create jobs, embrace diversity and achieve key business objectives.

While consolidating our corporate campus serves definite business interests, one of the secondary goals was to help support a critical mass of businesses in the central business district with people able to support them with their money. With help from partners like General Motors, Compuware, DTE Energy, Ilitch Holdings, Quicken Loans and its founder-turned venture capitalist, Dan Gilbert, we’re starting to see the fruits of those efforts.

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