How Blue Cross of Idaho's next CEO plans to make the company a 'destination employer'

Blue Cross of Idaho's next CEO wants to make the payer a "destination employer." 

Paul Zurlo, who will take the helm of the organization in January, told Becker's he's focused on improving health outcomes and investing in its workforce. 

Blue Cross of Idaho's board of directors named Mr. Zurlo the next president and chief executive officer May 12. Current CEO Charlene Maher will step away from the role of president and CEO on Jan. 1 and serve in an advisory role through 2024. 

Mr. Zurlo currently serves as president of health markets at the payer, and joined in 2016 as executive vice president of sales, marketing and communications. Prior to Blue Cross Idaho, he was vice president of business development for EmblemHealth and previously held leadership roles at Pfizer, WellPoint and Empire BlueCross BlueShield. 

He sat down with Becker's to share his vision for the Meridian, Idaho-based payer. 

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.  

Question: You first led sales, marketing and communications for Blue Cross of Idaho. How does that inform how you'll lead as CEO? 

Paul Zurlo: … We want to stay nimble as an organization. We want to stay flexible. We are a big fish in a small pond in Idaho. We are the market share leader by quite a bit, and we're very proud of that work. We don't enforce that, but it's part of the success that we've had, based on some of the decisions we've made around our members. It gives us the opportunity to continue to drive growth and invest back into the business and invest back into our members, which is what we're all about. Keeping that mission at the root of everything that we do is really what drives us. 

In order to do that, we've got to be good at the basics. We've got to be good at blocking and tackling parts of the business with claims, enrollment, billing, customer services, all of that. But we're very intent in the future on staying at the forefront of innovation in this industry. We're doing that through technology, through data analytics. I think the healthcare industry in general is at the best point it's ever been at in using data. We are heavily invested in that, to make sure we are using data to the benefit of our members. 

Q: You have a background working in value-based care. Is that something you want to expand as CEO? 

PZ: It is for sure. We've gotten a lot of traction for our members and for other stakeholders too, frankly, good partnerships with our provider community through value-based care arrangements. We're very good at it here in Idaho right now, and Blue Cross of Idaho in particular. We've had some very good success in driving value-based care models, but we want to continue to enhance those and potentially grow them. We at one point had about 70 percent of our claims going through value-based care arrangements. 

The interesting thing that we're experiencing is because we're so far out and ahead of the industry in value-based care, we've actually started to manage that back a little bit. That may not sound in tune with what I'm saying about continuing to grow, but what we're doing is identifying the right partners and the partners that want to be part of this arrangement, where they either take on risk or are committed to driving these value-based results. Our ability to know the data, see the data, share it with the provider community and make sure we are invested in all the right spots has regulated us in that model a little bit, but it will continue to be a very big part of what we do. 

Q: Many payers are getting involved in the provider space. Is that something you see Blue Cross of Idaho expanding, and is that the future direction of the industry? 

PZ: … We're pretty bullish on being good at what we do, and being a leader in what a health plan should be. That said, we are a big fan of, and we've had some very big success in investing in provider partners that we believe are most important to maintaining the integrity of the healthcare system. Primary care practices, and entities that we think are at the forefront of providing care to members and critical as that first step into the healthcare experience, or different settings for surgeries and other procedures that are alternatives to some of the larger hospitals are also places that we would continue to invest in. 

We've got really good partnerships with our hospital communities in Idaho. It's an approach that we take that we want to continue to partner the right way and support whenever we see appropriate through investment, the providers and stakeholders we believe are most critical to the system. We don't generally take the path that we would be able to manage and run those provider entities better than they can. They're very good at what they do. 

Q: What do you want to accomplish in your first year leading Blue Cross of Idaho? 

PZ: We have three basic goals that we operate on: simplifying the journey, leading the market and continuing to make healthcare affordable. But we have added two more goals that I'm very proud of as an organization and as a company. One of which is to be intent on and to be a driver of improving the health of the communities we serve. I feel like we're a stakeholder here and we should be taking a much more direct impact role in improving the health of the communities around us. We have opportunities here to improve the numbers of screenings and testings and basic, preventive types of care that all of our members need. There's room for improvement there, and I think we as an organization are committed to continuing to improve those numbers and improve that access. 

The last is to be a destination employer. What that means to me is we are continuing to grow and invest and develop a workforce that wants to be here, that is focused on our mission and talks about the great experience they have as an employee of Blue Cross of Idaho. I believe in the traction that creates within the building, within the virtual building, within all of our district offices. If you've got a core group of employees that love who they work for, are motivated by who they work for, and want to be here, you're creating an environment that gets us to our goals and our accomplishments even faster. 

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