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Health Care Service Corporation Announces Leadership Changes

Plan President Transitions in Illinois and Oklahoma

CHICAGO — Health Care Service Corporation (HCSC), the nation’s largest customer-owned health insurer, announced several changes to its senior leadership team and health plan presidents at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois (BCBSIL) and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma (BCBSOK). The leadership transitions reflect a thoughtful and strategic approach to long-term growth and succession planning for the company.

Dr. Opella Ernest, chief operating officer, takes on a new role effective immediately as executive vice president, HCSC Commercial Markets, succeeding Jeff Tikkanen, who announced he will retire from HCSC in March 2023. Mike Frank, senior vice president, Pharmacy and Ancillary Business, will become senior vice president, chief operating officer. Dr. Ernest and Frank will report to Maurice Smith, president and CEO of HCSC. 

Jeff Tikkanen, executive vice president, Commercial Markets, will transition to an advisory role focused on market initiatives including national account strategy and key client relationships until his retirement in March 2023. 

Additionally, Stephen Harris, effective immediately, is named the plan president of BCBSIL and Stephania Grober, effective May 1, 2022, is to be named plan president of BCBSOK. Harris replaces Steve Hamman as Illinois plan president, who has left the company to pursue new endeavors. Grober will replace Dr. Joseph Cunningham, who is set to retire on May 1, 2022. 

“As our strategic priorities evolve, so does our organizational structure,” said Maurice Smith president and CEO of HCSC. “Our continued focus on building our leadership bench allows us to continue to execute on our strategy -- to expand health care access, to deepen relationships in our communities and to advance our mission and commitments to remain the health coverage partner of choice for our stakeholders.”

Dr. Ernest will take on her new role, effective immediately, as executive vice president, HCSC Commercial Markets. As our former chief operating officer, Dr. Ernest helped reshaped our customer and provider experience through advancements in technology and innovation. In her new role, Dr. Ernest assumes responsibility for the company’s five BCBS health plans in Illinois, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas as well as national account growth, clinical and pharmacy operations and analytics. She joined HCSC in 2012 and has had increasing responsibility leading the company’s clinical strategy and operation as Senior Vice President, Chief Clinical Officer. She also served as Divisional Senior Vice President, Chief Medical Officer of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois. A board-certified family physician, she has a degree in medicine from The Ohio State University College of Medicine and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan

Mike Frank, senior vice president Pharmacy and Ancillary Business, will become senior vice president, chief operating officer, reporting to Dr. Ernest. In his new role, he will lead HCSC’s IT and Customer Service organizations. Frank joined HCSC in 2013 when BCBSMT became part of the company. Since that time as SVP, Tri-State plans, he provided strategic oversight on how HCSC served members in our Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plans in Montana, New Mexico and Oklahoma as well as expanding our pharmacy solutions and better understanding of our customer service needs. Previously Frank was president of the Montana plan. Other roles at the plan included chief legal and operations officer, chief administrative officer, vice president of Corporate Integrity and Human Resources, and vice president of Compliance and Ethics. He earned his Bachelor of Science in psychology from Montana State University and his Juris Doctor from the University of Montana.

Harris has over 20 years of experience spearheading business development and performance improvement initiatives for top health care organizations. Most recently during his time at HCSC, he led the company’s Medicaid line of business; responsible for driving growth, operational excellence, and financial performance. Prior to joining HCSC, Harris was Regional Vice President of Health Plan Operations at Molina Healthcare. As BCBSIL president, he will lead a team that manages the Plan’s commercial markets sales including group and individual, provider relations and network contracting, care management, regulatory and customer relationships and hyperlocal community engagement initiatives. 

Grober currently serves as vice president of BCBSOK operations overseeing network contracting, government relations, and health care management. Joining the company in 1997, Grober has held various roles in sales and account management and large group marketing positions. As plan president, she will be responsible for developing and executing strategies to accelerate local market growth and achieve membership and financial targets for BCBSOK. She will also oversee all plan operations, including sales and account management, government and public relations, provider network management, and medical management.

“This leadership transition reflects an overall strategic change in the company as we position for long-term growth in the communities we serve,” said Smith, “We continue to focus on bringing universal access to care, working in collaboration with our local hospitals, health systems, and community and civic partners to ensure everyone can get the care they need when they need it.”


About Health Care Service Corporation
Health Care Service Corporation is the country's largest customer-owned health insurer, with more than 17 million members in its health plans in Illinois, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. A Mutual Legal Reserve Company, HCSC is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.


Media Contact

Greg Thompson

Health Care Service Corporation, a Mutual Legal Reserve Company.