Brad Wilson came to Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, from which he now is retiring, more than 20 years ago after a career in the law and politics. He was part of former Gov. Jim Hunt’s inner circle with a knowledge of the state’s political history, and like so many who worked for Hunt, he moved on to a leadership position in the private sector, in his case BCBS, as general counsel and then eventually as president and CEO.
Wilson was an uncommon leader in the health care field – a diplomat, not a doctor – and he took charge at Blue Cross in a tumultuous time, rather like a cowboy who mounts a bucking bronco mid-ride. The Affordable Care Act had just been formed, after being resisted by many in the insurance industry. And while Wilson defended the health insurance system in the United States, he did not do so blindly or without acknowledging that the system needed improvement.
He also saw that BCBS continued to offer insurance in all 100 counties of the state, the only insurer to do so. He stayed aboard through seemingly endless controversies over rates, and through one particularly tough time when glitches in the customer service system saw some customers having the wrong amount of money drafted from their accounts or incorrect sign-ups. Refreshingly, Wilson took the heat, apologized, and worked the BCBS phone lines himself to help with troubleshooting.
He also saw the company through some important changes in guiding better collaborations with doctors (bundling payments for orthopedic services, for example) and headed the independent BCBS Foundation, which invests in local health and wellness programs.
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Wilson’s stewardship was effective, and he was reliably candid in discussing health care issues, even when his own viewpoints might have been at odds with other insurance executives around the country. His successor, Dr. Patrick Conway, comes to the company from the executive ranks of the federal Medicare and Medicaid system, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation. He will be working with Wilson in a transition period, which is good for him and the company.