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Leading the Charge on Wellness Programs

Tom Walsh

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM) — the state’s largest health insurer, with more than 4.3 million members — has a significant stake in the well-being of Michigan residents.

It’s what drives BCBSM’s support of hundreds of community wellness programs, said Pam Yager, BCBSM manager of social mission.

Beginning in 2013, the opioid crisis hit with devastating force. Overprescription of painkillers, such as oxycodone, led to a rise in opioid addiction back in the 1990s, but in 2016, there was an uptick in deaths from fentanyl and related drugs.

“Our CEO Daniel Loepp said, ‘Look, this is a top priority for us. We’re the largest insurer in the state, we have a strong social mission,’” said Dr. Duane DiFranco, a BCBSM vice president tapped in 2017 to co-chair an internal task force on the crisis. “We’re not just interested in our members but in all Michiganders, and people look to us for leadership.”


• The “Building Healthy Communities” program improves children’s health, addresses childhood obesity, and works with more than 800 schools and 300,000 kids.

• The “Strengthening the Safety Net” program invests more than $14 million to assist more than 60,000 mostly uninsured patients a year through free clinics and low-cost dental, vision, and other services.

To highlight the link between healthy employees and economic performance, the Detroit Regional Chamber and BCBSM also partner on the Wellness Works initiative, which launched its inaugural Healthy Workplace contest last summer.

More than 130 companies participated. Automotive consulting firm P3 North America stocked its office with healthy snacks and provided tuition reimbursement to employees, winning tickets to a Detroit Tigers game in the Chamber’s suite.


• $50,000 to regents of the University of Michigan to train volunteers to provide outreach support and connection to resources for veterans in need.

• $50,000 to the United Way for Southeastern Michigan to help improve the quality and accessibility of care provided to Detroiters.

• $60,000 to Wayne State University to examine high-risk opioid prescribing in southeast Michigan.

Tom Walsh is a metro Detroit freelance writer.