New Leader for Blue Cross

February 22, 1993

When it comes to jumping into a bubbling caldron -- and thriving -- few local executives can match the record of William L. Jews. First, he pulled off a successful merger of Lutheran and Provident hospitals and saved Provident from collapse. Then he tackled the politically influential but financially ailing Dimensions health-care system in Prince George's County and restored it to profitability. Now he's about to try to rescue Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maryland from its multitude of problems.

There is no doubt that Mr. Jews is a savvy veteran of the health-care industry, who knows about the health insurer's weaknesses from the hospital perspective. Mr. Jews also has a proven track record in overhauling a health-care company and overcoming financial, personnel and political difficulties.

But the Blues' blues are so pervasive and disturbing that Mr. Jews could have trouble saving the insurer from sliding into that bubbling caldron. Its claims services are the worst of any Blue Cross affiliate in the nation. Its free-spending ways haven't been eliminated completely. It faces a huge task of adjusting to more realistic accounting standards. And it has lost the confidence of many of its 1.4 million subscribers.

Still, Mr. Jews' task is far from hopeless. The company remains solvent and will report a large profit from the past year. A revived board of directors has started to pare expenses. The legislature is in the process of giving the insurance commissioner more power to regulate Blue Cross and ensure its viability. And the Clinton administration's stress on managed health-care opens new opportunities for the company -- if it can get its act together.

We are also impressed by Mr. Jews' eagerness to take a leading role in Baltimore-area civic affairs even while working in Landover as president and chief executive of Dimensions Health Corp. He is the Greater Baltimore Committee's point man on its crucial life-sciences initiative, for instance. Blue Cross is part of the fabric of this community, the largest health insurer in the state and the insurer of last resort for many citizens. Returning the company to good financial health is imperative.

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