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Blue Shield of California Is Rooted in Disruption, Now It's Doing it Again

Jeff Semenchuk, chief innovation officer at Blue Shield of California is tasked with reinventing the health care industry, not just for the plan's members or all Californians, but for all Americans

At first glance, Jeff Semenchuk might seem more like a start-up guy than a health insurance company executive. He has a casual and friendly demeanor and ready smile. The white board in his office is filled with handwritten designs with words, arrows and circles that demonstrates his mind is hard at work. The work? He is not designing how health care can be delivered. That would be tinkering. He and his Blue Shield colleagues are designing how health care should be delivered, for the benefit of the patient, the physician and everyone in between.

We sat down with Jeff to ask him about his work and the path forward to the health care model of the future.

Q. You were working on health-focused startups and living in Chicago. Why did you change course to figure out the future of healthcare with Blue Shield of California?

Jeff Semenchuk Headshot
Jeff Semenchuk, chief innovation officer

A. Every American needs the health care system to be improved. Given the importance of this need, it was hard not to be intrigued by Blue Shield of California. It’s uniquely positioned to advocate for change because it is a non-profit. And then, if you get the chance to spend just a few minutes with Paul (Markovich - Blue Shield’s president and CEO), you get inspired that change is not only urgently needed, but he’s driving the organization to achieve it. I want to help. And he doesn’t want to change the system for just Blue Shield of California members and Californians – he wants to change it for all Americans.

Q. How does your role, an innovation leader, support those efforts?

A. To achieve that ambitious mission, we must radically change how we do things - starting with ourselves. Innovation will touch every area of the company, be infused throughout our processes, and create a “new normal” for everything we do. By shifting our mindset - the way we think, act, and work together – we can accomplish what’s never been done before and change the world.

Q. The company is 80 years old. It must be pretty hard-wired to do things a certain way – pay insurance claims. How are you and the leadership team affecting change?

A. It does start at the leadership level with a strong strategy and clear focus, supported by good communications - we have that. Then it spreads to our colleagues across the company. We have a workforce that loves what they do. My team and I need to build on that enthusiasm. We want to help Blue Shield employees learn how to innovate through information, education, and infrastructure, and support their efforts. Even if that means supporting ideas that don’t work, because not everything will.

Q. Why do this? Why not just continue being a health insurance company?

A. For starters, we have 4 million reasons to take action – that’s how many plan members we have who depend on us at this moment in time. We need to tackle the challenges of rising costs – for them. We need to find ways to help their doctors be doctors and not burdened with administrative duties – for them. We need to cut down the complexity of the benefits process and paperwork – for them. Our company was started in 1939 by a group of physicians who wanted to disrupt the status quo. We’ve taken up that challenge with new energy and, yes, with new ways of thinking. We respect and honor that legacy. We’re doing this for them, too.

And with my job as a practitioner, or facilitator, of change and new thinking, I’m convinced that we can all come together and take what we know from our various times at Blue Shield, health care, and beyond, we can make impactful change to today’s system and quality of care.

Jeff Semenchuk is Blue Shield of California’s Chief Innovation Officer. Read his bio here and follow the company’s innovation news here.

We spoke with Semenchuk earlier this year about his new role: