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On her office wall, chief executive Dana Erickson displays a copy of a 1934 poster that summarized her company's work: Covering hospital bills.

It was designed by the pioneering Viennese artist Joseph Binder and featured the blue Geneva cross, an image that also was used in ads and became synonymous with the company now known as Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota.

The 1934 poster was commissioned by the Hospital Service Association, the predecessor of Blue Cross of Minnesota that was incorporated in Ramsey County on Feb. 4, 1933. The original poster is on display at headquarters of the Blue...
The 1934 poster was commissioned by the Hospital Service Association, the predecessor of Blue Cross of Minnesota that was incorporated in Ramsey County on Feb. 4, 1933. The original poster is on display at headquarters of the Blue...

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota

Selling coverage at seven St. Paul hospitals for 75 cents per month, the health insurer says it was the first to use the Blue Cross brand when providing access across a group of hospitals. Over the years, the image became a powerful marketing logo that's currently shared by some 34 Blue Cross and Blue Shield insurers across the county.

This month, Eagan-based Blue Cross of Minnesota is marking its 90th anniversary. Before the commemoration, Erickson talked with the Star Tribune about her priorities as chief executive, including a decision next year to bring back in-house work on Medicaid and related state public health programs.

"It was a group of seven providers," Erickson said of the company's founding. "It was 1933 — so in the throes of the Great Depression — and there were hospital beds sitting empty. People couldn't afford it. So, a group of physicians came together and created really kind of a prepaid network."

Here is a transcript from the interview, which has been edited for space and clarity.

Q: You were named CEO in October 2021. How did you get into health care?

A: I've been here at Blue Cross now, as of January, for eight years. I did start out giving direct patient care as a respiratory therapist. So really, you know, very much entrenched in the provider side and did some leadership roles there.

But then really quickly I started to think about different parts of the health care industry — just very interested in the business aspect, in different parts of the ecosystem. It's when I moved here, actually, to the Twin Cities that I moved into the administrative side of the world, the payer side.

Q: What are your goals as chief executive?

A: I'd really highlight three things for you. One is around who we are as health plan, and so very much being laser focused on what is it that our members need from us. The way I look at it, when someone picks Blue Cross and has the card in the wallet — digital or otherwise — they put a huge amount of trust in us that they can access care when they need quality care at a price that is fair and affordable.

That sort of leads to our second focus area, which is affordability. … That's the number one thing we hear from our members and purchasers.

And then the last thing I would say is around personalized care, and specifically around culturally competent care. We're hearing that more directly from purchasers: How do we make sure that the care that's being provided to our employees, or that we're accessing is personalized to them, but also is done in a really culturally competent way? … Our members and our purchasers expect us to pay attention to the disparities that are so prevalent right now, both locally and nationally.

Q: Given the labor shortages in health care, and upward pressure on wages, should health insurance purchasers expect higher premiums?

A: We really are working closely with our providers in our network — we have a long history, of course, with them. Several years ago, we started to really work with them on different types of payment models. We're trying to work with them in a more collaborative way to address: Yes, we understand the rising labor costs and shortages; how do we actually work with you on different models that can sustain you longer-term while still recognizing the situation they're in and that they deserve a fair price. I think it will take compromise across the board. We're confident from the conversations we've already had, that we will have a stable network.

Q: For-profit competition is a bigger part of the Minnesota health insurance market now, particularly with expansion by Minnetonka-based UnitedHealthcare in the markets for health plans in the Medicare and Medicaid programs. What has that meant for Blue Cross?

A: They do have a greater presence, particularly in government markets. You know, I tell our teams internally that competition makes you better. I think a lack of competition actually can lead to some complacency. So, it's really allowed and helped us to focus again where we spend our time, energy, resources and investments on what our members want from a purchasing standpoint.

And so we believe that we're in a strong position, even though we know that they are coming in more aggressively in some of those areas. We still believe that we can be the insurer of choice for purchasers.

Q: In 2021, Blue Cross of Minnesota sold Further, its business for administering health savings accounts, for $500 million — a big price tag. What is Blue Cross doing with those proceeds?

A: We are investing in different areas within our core capabilities to make sure that we meet the needs of our members going forward, such as with navigation tools. … They're also helping as we build a new model for serving Medicaid beneficiaries.

Historical note: A company spokesman says that Blue Cross of Minnesota was the first company to use the Blue Cross logo when selling access to a prepaid network that included multiple hospitals. He added that at roughly the same time in the 1930s a health plan in Texas also started using the Blue Cross brand for an insurance product with access to just one hospital.