Horizon’s big move is credit to Conlin: This is part of his longer view

By Tom Bergeron
Newark | Nov 26, 2019 at 4:45 am
Editor’s Desk

Last fall, in his first public statements as the chairman, CEO and president of Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, Kevin Conlin played it close the vest. He was thoughtful and deliberate, as is his way. And nothing he told ROI-NJ on that day showed what might be coming ahead.

That announcement came Monday afternoon, when Assemblyman John McKeon (D-Madison) introduced legislation that would make it possible for Horizon BCBSNJ to become a not-for-profit mutual.

The move, which — among other things — will give the company more flexibility in its ability to invest in new technologies, was quickly lauded by state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford). And, while there are no certainties in politics, it would appear the change — which Horizon and state officials have been working on for more than a year — will take place.

It’s a tip of the cap to Conlin, a lifelong insurance executive who came to Horizon in 2012 and took over for the retiring Bob Marino on Jan. 1, 2018.

“This is part of his longer view,” Horizon spokesman Tom Wilson said. “He came in and started looking at a strategy refresh, and so we changed things around here. This was the last piece of that. He said, ‘Are we operationally in the best corporate form to hit our mission, to maximize and hit our goals and to meet our mission and to serve our members?’

“And so, he directed us to look at our options. And all of them were on the table. Everything from exercising that for-profit conversion to this, to do nothing and everything in between. And, at the end of the day, when they looked at all the pertinent information, Conlin felt what makes the most sense for our members is that we mutualize.

“He wanted to double down on our commitment to them by making it essentially member-owned, and that we hold onto our not-for-profit status so that we’re not beholden to anybody and our dollars get reinvested back into to them, as opposed to spun out to shareholders.

“This was not a light exercise.”

And one that was introduced with Conlin being front and center.

Conlin took a medical leave of absence earlier this fall. Wilson said Conlin has reduced his time in the Newark-based headquarters of the company, but he has remained the leader of this process.

“He’s not back in all the time, but this shows he’s really engaged,” Wilson said. “He’s walking down the right path and he is involved and aware. Trust me, he’s the only one making these types of decisions.”

No date has been set for Conlin’s return from his leave.

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