Priority taps BCBSM exec with individual experience

October 5, 2009
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After leading Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan’s unit for individual health insurance, Joan Budden has jumped across the state to become chief marketing officer for Priority Health.

“Priority Health is one of the few health care companies that is actually growing in Michigan,” Budden said. “So while other companies are seeing declines because of the economy and other things, Priority Health has been growing. They stayed very true to their focus on providing affordable access to health care.”

Budden spent 24 years at BCBSM, culminating as vice president of individual business. Her arrival at the Grand Rapids-based health plan follows its entry into the Detroit market in 2007 and comes as Priority Health for months has been contemplating growth into the market for individual health coverage. The nonprofit now covers about 1,500 individuals through group conversion and Medicare Advantage products.

“I think you’ll see us in the market,” she said. “We have group conversion, but we’re looking for other viable, affordable alternatives for individuals. I do happen to have a little expertise in that field. I think we’re going to come up with some really good ideas.”

Individual policies are still just a small slice of the market, but that market has been growing thanks to layoffs and cutbacks that have left people without group insurance.

“If there is national reform, all the projections indicate that market could increase substantially,” she added. “We definitely want to be poised to be considered a serious, viable option.”

Budden is a Detroit-area native with an undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan’s dental hygienist program and a master’s degree from Wayne State University, where she studied public administration with a health care emphasis.

“When I first graduated, I was a dental hygienist, which brought me into the health care system,” Budden said. She said U-M’s rigorous baccalaureate program left her well-prepared to work in strategic planning for BCBSM. 

Budden, 48, lives in Bloomfield Hills with her husband, Doug, a general contractor and owner of Woodlake Construction, and their son and daughter, both in high school. She intends to split her time between Priority Health’s Farmington Hills office and the Grand Rapids headquarters.

“I really have enjoyed being here,” Budden said. “It seems a little more positive climate. It hasn’t been hit as hard with the economy and auto-related problems that the east side of the state has been facing. The Grand Rapids area seems very vibrant to me.” — Elizabeth Slowik

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