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Mike Nowatzki, Published December 27 2009

'10 to Watch': ‘Development year’ ahead for ND Blues chief von Ebers

EDITOR’S NOTE: Readers submitted their nominations, and Forum editors narrowed the list. The result is our “10 to Watch in 2010” list. It’s an elite group of local folks – some you already know, some you’re likely to know soon – who are poised to be newsmakers in 2010. Look for this feature to run daily through Thursday.

In his third-floor office overlooking south Fargo’s bustling retail district, Paul von Ebers picked up a book from a black table near the window.

The hardcover, “7 Lessons for Leading in Crisis” by former Medtronic CEO Bill George, had been used in a Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota planning meeting the previous day.

The title seems fitting for von Ebers, who in August took over as CEO of the not-for-profit mutual insurance firm during one of its most turbulent times.

The coming year brings several challenges for von Ebers. There is public trust to restore among customers and public officials such as Insurance Commissioner Adam Hamm, possible health care reform to address, and a desire to get back to the company’s mission of providing affordable health insurance.

Some may not see a lot of modifications in the company in 2010. It’s likely that changes in products and provider relationships won’t be rolled out until 2011, von Ebers said.

“2010 is going to be a development year,” he said.

The business will take a hit on Jan. 1, when newly merged MeritCare Health System switches insurance administrators for its self-funded coverage and Grand Forks-based Altru Health System drops Blue Cross Blue Shield for Medica.

As a result, the Blues are reducing staff slightly by not filling open positions, but von Ebers said he doesn’t anticipate layoffs.

“If you set those two losses aside, we believe we’ll be back growing next year,” he said.

The company is looking closely at its products and how they will need to change to respond to greater competition.

“And it’s too early for me to talk about that, but I would say that we have some very good ideas that we’re exploring,” he said.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528