Stewart marshaled analytics to chart Blue Cross’ path to profitability

QUANTIFIED: Mark Stewart, right, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island’s chief financial officer, during a meeting at the company’s Exchange Street office with Catherine Mitchell, managing director, actuarial, and Sean Neylon, manager, actuarial. / PBN PHOTO/MIKE SALERNO
QUANTIFIED: Mark Stewart, right, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island’s chief financial officer, during a meeting at the company’s Exchange Street office with Catherine Mitchell, managing director, actuarial, and Sean Neylon, manager, actuarial. / PBN PHOTO/MIKE SALERNO

CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER | Mark Stewart, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island


Two of the things Mark Stewart, chief financial officer at Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, is passionate about: technology, especially for data purposes; and volunteerism, especially for Crossroads Rhode Island. And both play a major role in his performance at the state’s largest health insurer.

He has been at Blue Cross for three years and has served as its chief financial officer for two.

Before coming onboard, Stewart gained a wide perspective on business and finances with positions at New Century Health, Aetna Inc., Cigna, UBS Warburg Financial Services, General Electric Investment Corp., and ConAgra Corp. In addition to soaking up on-the-job knowledge, he completed financial-management programs offered by GE and Cigna.

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Data has always fascinated Stewart, even in his role at packaged-foods company ConAgra years ago.

“Our job was to sell products to grocery stores. We’d try to get analytics even back then. Say if [a product] had permanent space on a shelf. If we set up a display instead, how much does it affect sales?”

Plentiful health care analytics are even more interesting to Stewart. Cohorts of data allow insurers to see different trends in the market. But he notes that an explosion of technology poses its own challenges, with a vast amount of information available. The important thing, he said, is figuring out how businesses such as health insurers can use it for their benefit and that of their members.

“How do we cull it down to actually give us insight … to benefit our patients? How do we address issues before they reach a catastrophic level? How do we influence behavior?”

Advanced software that more efficiently serves companies that offer Blue Cross benefits is one improvement Stewart has championed.

Before, he said, human resources directors or small-business owners would reach out to Blue Cross to review what they were spending on health care.

But what they would get, he said, was access to a website portal, with static costs produced and no real actionable items.

“We needed to put it in more bite-sized pieces, offer data that is not a bunch of jargon that they can’t understand but easy concepts. And hopefully, simplify this,” he said.

Now, the tools to check costs are more front-facing for members, he said. The software allows them to “drill down or sideways and come back up” with cost information they require.

Stewart also has put analytic support in place for these businesses, consultants who work to show companies what’s driving their costs and what some solutions may be – such as wellness programs or a change in the way their benefits are designed. He plans more hires in this arena, more growth.

“An HR person doesn’t need to feel like they are on an island alone to determine cost drivers” anymore, he said.

“In his first year as CFO, Mark helped the company to right-size the financial losses of $35 million experienced in 2016, returning to profitability in 2017,” said Kim Keck, Blue Cross president and CEO. “In the past, it was much more about contracting and fighting over rates. Now it’s a very collaborative approach. We look at the analytics and work with our networks to provide better, more-efficient and – in the end – better-value care.”

One such collaboration is with Brown University, which will pair interns with analytics work experience at Blue Cross, and partner with faculty experts for ideas and advice, said Stewart.

Also benefiting from Stewart’s resourcefulness and knowledge: Crossroads Rhode Island, his regular pick as a preferred project site for Blue Cross’ annual day of service.

A member of its finance and audit committee, Stewart last year joined the board of directors for the nonprofit, which works to end homelessness.

“They are different than other organizations that try to attack homelessness but don’t focus on ending it,” said Stewart – similar to the big-perspective mindset he’s brought to Blue Cross.