By Susan Salisbury
For The Palm Beach Post
Penny Shaffer, market president of Florida Blue, the state’s oldest and largest health insurance company, says the biggest impact from the COVID-19 pandemic will most likely be an increase in the use of such virtual health services as Teladoc.
Shaffer, named to the position in 2007, is responsible for the company’s business operations in an eight- county region from the Keys to the Treasure Coast.
“While the technology has been available for some time, this impetus will help people recognize how convenient it can be. It’s about receiving the right care at the right time and the right setting, and there is a time and place for virtual health care,” Shaffer said.
“There is a lot to say for the convenience of interacting with a provider from the comfort of your home. It is safer, in many ways, given no travel or transport is required, and there is no interaction with other patients in waiting rooms. It isn’t the right method for every condition, or patient or situation, but there are a growing number of encounters that can be satisfied with a telehealth visit,” she said.
Florida Blue is seeing an average of 600 virtual health visits a day, double what it saw before the crisis, spokesman Doug Bartel said.
Shaffer said it’s too early to tell what the pandemic’s impact will be on Florida Blue’s profitability.
Several positive and negative factors are at play. Although members have not been seeing physicians in the traditional manner, they have been using virtual health. However, delayed attention to some conditions may complicate the ultimate treatment plan and add expense as people return to seeing their doctors and seeking care.
Revenue is delayed because Florida Blue has provided some relief on its delinquency policy. In addition, it’s not known what will happen if there is a second spike in COVID-19 cases.
“In response to COVID-19, Florida Blue has made multiple policy adjustments to support the community and members emotionally, financially and in other ways – to minimize barriers to testing and treatment and to combat the spread of the virus,” Shaffer said.
Florida Blue has given individual and group customers more time to pay bills, increased access to virtual health, made COVID-19 testing and treatment available at no charge, and expanded a number of rewards programs for members so they can earn dollars to go to help pay for health care costs.
The company has also expanded virtual access to nurses, social workers, sales and service and provided $4 million in emergency relief efforts for community organizations. It’s also providing a no-cost counseling line to all Floridians, regardless of insurance.
Name: Penny Shaffer
Title: Market President, Florida Blue (BlueCross and Blue Shield of Florida)
Hometown and where you live now: Huntington, W.Va., Aventura
Family: Partner of 24 years, brother and sister-in-law, nephew and family live in the Panhandle, niece and family in Fort Meade, 10 nieces and nephews “of the heart,” six grandnieces and nephews
Education: Bachelor’s degree, Frostburg State; MBA, Fordham University; Ph.D., Kennedy-Western University
Career: I held a series of sales, service, and quality positions with AT&T over 26 years, retiring in 2005 as the Global Services Vice President for Latin America and Canada.
I joined Florida Blue in 2006 when a mentor called to ask me to apply my years of matrix management skills to a unique new role in South Florida – to balance functional needs with geographic relevance and improve the health of this community.
About your company: Florida Blue, the state’s Blue Cross and Blue Shield company, has been providing health insurance to Florida residents for more than 75 years. It is the state’s oldest and largest health insurance company. Driven by its mission of helping people and communities achieve better health, Florida Blue serves more than 5 million health care members across the state. In total, Florida Blue and its affiliated companies serve 27 million people in 35 states. Florida Blue is headquartered in Jacksonville, and employs more than 7,000 employees, with more than 500 people at its offices and locations across South Florida.
First paying job and what you learned from it: Delivering newspapers (the Washington, D.C., Evening Star). The customer is always right. If they wanted the newspaper in a specific spot, put it there.
First break in business: I do not know if it was my first break, but it was a big lesson and one which paved the way for career development. I applied for an international position but learned quickly that I was not experienced enough or prepared enough to assume the role and make a meaningful contribution to the team. I learned that preparation is important, so you arrive as a candidate with many of the qualifications in hand and a small gap to close when assuming the role.
How your business has changed: During my tenure, the pivotal change came with the passage of the Affordable Care Act. It made insurance available for so many in Florida. Florida Blue has worked steadfastly from the start to improve the affordability and access in all 67 counties. It is work that we still do, in every segment we serve – individuals, businesses of all sizes, and our treasured seniors.
Best business or leadership book you have read: I continue to quote and give away copies of “The Nibble Theory and the Kernel of Power” by Kaleel Jamison. It is a simple story about the very profound belief that we can all grow, can be bigger. “A person who acts AS IF soon IS.”
Best piece of business advice you have received: Seek to understand before being understood. It helps avoid miscommunication and misunderstanding and paves the way for great ideas to come out of the team.
What you tell young people about your business: Our industry and health sector is 20 percent of the economy (the GDP). That means one in five jobs is in health-related fields. While it will change and needs to be a smaller part of the GDP going forward, it will still be a robust and interesting sector that changes lives.
Many successful people learn from failure. Do you have a failure you can share and what you learned from it? I went into some early sales calls fresh from six weeks of training. I knew the products and benefits. What I missed was how to apply what I learned to actual situations. I learned that we are given two ears and one mouth, and it is best if we use them in proportion.
What do you see ahead for Palm Beach County? There is great leadership in the community that is committed to growing the economy and equalizing access for all. I am so impressed by the organizations that work collaboratively for the economic good but also the overall well-being of the citizens of the county.
Power lunch spot: Not sure about “power,” but I like Max’s Grill in Boca.
Where would we find you when you are not at the office? Traveling, attending a live performance or at the movies.
Favorite smartphone app: It would be a close tie between Amazon, IMDB and Expedia.
What is the most important trait you look for when hiring? Collaboration. I know of no human who has done it all alone.