Capital BlueCross CEO helped reshape the health care company’s role

Ioannis Pashakis//March 10, 2020

Capital BlueCross CEO helped reshape the health care company’s role

Ioannis Pashakis//March 10, 2020

Gary St. Hilaire, the departing president and CEO of Capital BlueCross, left, and Todd Shamash, the company’s senior vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary, who will serve as acting CEO. PHOTO/ IOANNIS PASHAKIS

Capital BlueCross CEO and President Gary St. Hilaire will leave the Harrisburg-based insurer next month after guiding it through years of growth to become a major presence in the midstate’s competitive insurance market.

St. Hilaire is leaving the company to take a position as president and CEO of Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield in New Jersey on April 6. Capital’s Board of Directors appointed Todd Shamash to serve as acting CEO. Shamash has been with the company for seven years and is currently senior vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary of Capital BlueCross.

When St. Hilaire joined Capital BlueCross as CFO in 2005, he was entering the company fresh on the heels of five years as CFO for a Manchester, New Hampshire-based health care benefits start-up.

It had been three years since Harrisburg-based Capital Blue Cross and Pittsburg-based Highmark BlueCross BlueShield terminated their agreement to offer joint health insurance in the midstate.

Looking at the stiff competition his new employer had with Highmark, St. Hilaire felt that Capital should be run like a well-funded start-up. For the company to grow, it needed to find its own footing, he said.

“Capital was resetting its position as a fully involved and engaged health plan as opposed to being one part of a health plan, as they were when they were partnered with Highmark,” said St. Hilaire.

Taking a lead

The following years were vitally important for Capital as it worked to differentiate itself in what St. Hilaire referred to as one of the most competitive marketplaces in the country. To stand out from competitors such as Highmark, Aetna and UnitedHealthcare, as well as integrated plans like Geisinger and UPMC, Capital focused on diversifying.

“Capital couldn’t afford to wait, but needed to lead,” said St. Hilaire. “There were things we did because we knew we were in a competitive place and because we wanted to be an innovative leader.”

Capital BlueCross acquired Dominion Dental Services, a privately held dental benefit provider based in Alexandria, Virginia, in 2008 and founded its subsidiary data analytics company, Geneia Technology, in 2011.

In 2010, St. Hilaire became Capital’s president. Two years later, he became CEO.

“We are grateful to Gary for his leadership over the past 15 years,” Capital BlueCross Board Chairman Kathryn Taylor said. “His drive, financial acumen, innovative thinking and commitment to the community have made us a stronger company and cemented our position as the leading health plan in our market.”

On the consumer end of its offerings, Capital placed a stronger emphasis on innovation by being an early adopter of telehealth, and opening Capital Blue Health and Wellness centers in Lehigh and Enola that offer health coaching, personal training and health care coverage consultation.

“Any opportunity we have to engage our members on their health and wellness journey creates a connection and connects them to Capital to understand that the Blue brand means so much more than just benefits you can access,” St. Hilaire said.

Under his leadership, the company focused on building partnerships with health care providers, while some of its competitors looked to decrease costs for their clients through other means, such as ownership.

St. Hilaire also rejected the notion that an insurer could only reduce costs to clients by limiting choices. “If all we are doing is funneling into a more limited, narrow network with the promise that it will be less expensive, then we haven’t done what we should be doing,” he said.

Part of the team

St. Hilaire’s interim replacement, Shamash, has worked throughout the health care industry as a deputy chief of staff for the Pennsylvania Governor’s Office, and senior counsel for Jefferson Health system. He has also been a trustee on the Pennsylvania Employee Benefits Trust Fund, a commissioner of the Pennsylvania Banking and Securities Commission and department counsel for the Pennsylvania Insurance Department.

St. Hilaire called Shamash a key member of Capital’s team, bringing to the table years of experience in both the provider and regulatory sides of health care.

“The last seven years have been exciting, wonderful and certainly challenging with the market (we are operating in),” said Shamash. “It took learning how to move very quickly on innovation but also making sure that we are competitive with publically traded insurance companies and companies that own hospitals as well as insurance companies.”

Shamash grew up in the region and said that returning to the area to raise his family and be a part of a company like Capital was important to him.  Capital was appealing to Shamash from the start because of the resources it has as a multi-billion dollar company. And its focus on the Lehigh and central Pennsylvania regions keep it nimbler than its competitors in other states.

Under St. Hilaire’s leadership, Capital built a strong management team that will be able to continue as a market leader and maintain a member-centric strategy, according to Shamash.

“I was excited when I was approached by Gary and the board to have this opportunity because I know that we have to keep moving and we can’t miss a beat to be successful for our members and our employees,” he said.