Daniel Hilferty (SPA/MPA '81) says fixing health care is the challenge of our time.
"Future generations will judge us on whether we got health care right," said Hilferty, the president and chief executive officer of Independence Blue Cross, at a conference at American University in 2017.
With spending on health care representing 18 percent of the gross national product, and rising, Hilferty said the stakes are high and the need for action is urgent. He called for a bipartisan effort to stabilize health care and partnerships between the public and private sectors to increase efficiency.
"In the big picture, how we organize our health system will determine how effectively we respond to crises such as cancer, diabetes, opioid addiction, or a potential major pandemic," said Hilferty. "We find ourselves in a self-perpetuating crisis, and if we can't fix it, we will get sicker."
Independence Blue Cross, the Philadelphia-based company that Hilferty leads, is one of the 36 independent, locally-operated Blue Cross Blue Shield companies in the country. Independence Blue Cross operates in 23 states and D.C. and serves 8.5 million people, tripling in size since he took the helm in 2010.
Hilferty said the job was a natural fit because it allowed him to head a large organization and work in an industry that was heavily dependent on government regulation and political decision-making.
"It's very much connected to my experience at AU," he said. "As I pursued my Master's in Public Administration at American, I was able to work for my hometown congressman and gain other experience at the International City/County Management Association. I've always looked for challenges that had a lot to do with the political environment and public policy — and where better than health care?"
As a master's student, Hilferty worked all day on Capitol Hill, took a full course load at AU in the late afternoons, evenings, and Saturdays, and tried to take advantage of being in Washington D.C., which he describes as "the epicenter of all things public policy and politics." He valued the expertise of professors who worked in the government, members of Congress who gave visiting lectures, and fellow students.
"It was a combination of what you were able to learn from textbooks, these remarkable professors who had a wealth of experience in government and public administration, and the outside environment where you could live what you were learning every single day," said Hilferty.
In his career, Hilferty said he has enjoyed being able to influence federal and state health-care policy, working with three U.S. presidents, the Congressional leadership, and industry colleagues. He has been chairman of the board of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association and is on the executive committee of America's Health Insurance Plans. Hilferty has backed innovative initiatives, such as working closely with health-care providers to make real-time decisions, only paying for outcomes, and finding nontraditional partners to communicate with members.
"You have an opportunity to really nurture ideas that you or your colleagues may have and turn them into practical applications for members to help them get healthy and stay healthy," he said.
As debate over health-care policy continues, Hilferty said he remains hopeful.
"Only we, the American people, can apply appropriate pressure on our elected officials — be they Republican or Democrat — to sit across the table from each other and hammer out a health-care plan that is as accessible, and even more accessible, than the ACA, but really takes seriously the need to make the system sustainable."