Episode 92

The Potentialist

with Ben Lytle

December 22, 2022

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Ben Lytle
Serial Entrepreneur & CEO, Anthem

Ben Lytle is Advisor to Lytle Healthcare and Author of “The Potentialist.” He is the former Chairman and CEO of Anthem, Inc. He received a Bachelor’s in Psychology from Texas A&M and a JD from Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis.


There are a lot of ways to strengthen the process, improve procedures, provide more money, and encourage candidates to start planning earlier and bigger.



Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: [00:00:00] Well, good morning, Ben, and welcome.

Ben Lytle: Well, thank you, Gary. Glad to be.

Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: We’re pleased to have you at this microphone. Let’s dig right in. Ben, you’ve played such an important role in the evolution of private health insurance in this country as the Chairman and CEO of Anthem. Can you give us the backstory of the creation of Anthem Ben?

Ben Lytle: In 19 87 I had been Chief Operating Officer at that point for five years of blue Cross Blue Shield of Indiana. And I was selected and actually preselected by the board to succeed the c e o when he was gonna retire two years later. And at that point I asked the board and they agreed that I wanted to take the next two years to develop a strategic plan. For the company. I had some freedom there in that two years to really investigate how I could make the company stronger. [00:01:00] So I set out to figure out how we could diversify the company in case the health plan business wasn’t good anymore, wasn’t a good business. So I came up with the idea that we would try to merge some Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies that were mutual insurance companies. And then take that public that was not necessarily well received at the time. And we formed Anthem and the beginning company that I started with, blue Cross Blue Shield of Indiana, went from that became the Anthem went from about a billion dollars in revenue and about $300 million. In surplus, which is a rough equivalent to shareholder equity in a public company. By the end of those four mergers, we had close to 10 billion in revenue and over a billion in surplus. So we became very strong, very powerful, and we could compete effectively. And and then we. [00:02:00] We began to use that surplus to buy struggling Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies in the Northeast and in the west. So we acquired from the states where they operated Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Colorado. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nevada blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maine and New Hampshire. And so at the end of that run we were a very large company, about 16 billion in revenue. And in 2001 we took the company public. And that said the rest is,

Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: That’s just a fascinating story and your role in this is very interesting. Ben, can we go back a bit? I mean, you were a young person when you went to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Indiana. I think in the information technology space then became the coo o And then, as you mentioned, the c e o, you must add a lot of different options than health insurance at the point you joined there. Why did you want to join a company focused on [00:03:00] health insurance?

Ben Lytle: Well, I was fascinated. Initially I, you know, I came in as one of the executives in information technology. That was my career, and I had been an information tech. Technology in management and information technology in three industries, in aerospace in consumer finance in banking, and then in health insurance. And I found health insurance fascinating. because first of all, healthcare is so complicated and it’s so challenging and it’s got so many I don’t know how to describe ’em, moral issues that are involved. You’re struggling to try to figure out how do you provide as much care as possible to people and keep it affordable and there’s really nobody else. In the industry that quite faces that same challenge. And and the government tries to do it, but they don’t do it very well. You know, it’s government and it and and so I really felt, boy, this is a unique mission and it’s [00:04:00] so challenging to run these businesses well cuz they’re very complicated, very labor intensive even today with all the technology. So, it really fired me up.

Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: what do you think about today? When you look at the huge size of the health insurers today, did you think that would happen?

Ben Lytle: Yeah, I actually did. It was precisely why I built Anthem. I could see what was gonna happen how big and powerful. The Aetnas of the world and the United Healthcares of the world were gonna be, and they were gonna be able to access capital in a way that not for profits. And mutual insurance companies can’t. Your only way to raise capital is to raise rates or cut costs. And so, I felt that was gonna happen. And it was, and I think the reason I built Anthem has played itself.

Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Ben, some of the companies, United being example of Humana, are moving aggressively into [00:05:00] actually acquiring the delivery system, acquiring doctors home care, and so on. What do you think about that and did you envision that the health insurers would expand into the delivery system at some point?

Ben Lytle: Yeah I did because I think going back even to the early nineties we went through a cycle of Big health systems, acquiring physician practices and other elements of the delivery system and health plans did it as well. It, they were a little ahead of the time because to really make that work, you need value-based care, which was, you know, actually passed and endorsed. In Obamacare, the Accountable Health Act, and but it’s taken an awful long time for that value-based care to actually become how we pay for healthcare. Ultimately, I think it’s a good thing.

Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Speaking of the government we were chatting [00:06:00] the other day just as a run up to this interview, that if you look at Medicare and Medicaid together, Coverage is now roughly 48% of the population. Do you think that’s going to continue to grow and what impact do you think that’s going to have on healthcare Ben?

Ben Lytle: It is gonna continue to grow. I don’t see any way it. First of all, we have an aging population. So we’re gonna have more people in Medicare and Medicaid. And who in Medicaid, of course, being the elderly who can’t afford you know, who really can’t afford even private supplemental insurance. And what they call a dual eligible, somebody who’s eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid. And so that’s gonna grow though the elderly are consuming more care per capita because we’re figuring out more ways to keep people living longer and living better. That’s a good thing. In addition to the Medicaid roles are gonna continue to grow [00:07:00] because as he. We haven’t been very successful in making the cost of healthcare any cheaper. For sure. It gets more expensive every year than the cost of health insurance. And so, it becomes more unaffordable to more people. So the Medicaid roles grow in the Medicare roles grow, I believe, unless. We fundamentally solve a few problems in healthcare financing. We’re gonna end up with a real crisis a cost and access crisis in healthcare.

Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Yeah, that, that’s for sure. The case affordability is a term that a lot of us use for what you’re talking about, and that seems to be growing as a. You we’ll discuss your book, the potential us a little bit later, but the framework on that really is a 30 year framework. And if I could apply that to this situation, are you positive Ben, that we can actually evolve to a [00:08:00] more value-based care, take care of this growing population of chronic disease, do you think in the context in the next 10, 20, 30 years that we’ll actually solve this problem?

Ben Lytle: We’re gonna have to build a more value-based. System to get there. But hopefully that’s gonna take place in the next decade or so. And I, it, I think, and you know, unfortunately, a lot of times necessity is the mother of invention and we have to get to a crisis before we do something. But I hope we don’t get that.

Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Ben, you have a brand of leadership. Kind of been you throughout your career, how do you integrate that brand of leadership into these companies like Anthem that you either found or run? How do you think about that, Ben?

Ben Lytle: Well, y you know, I, and this is gonna sound. Over simplified, overly simple, but I fundamentally enjoy people. I like being around people. You know, there are people and people in [00:09:00] leadership who find people annoying and they’re always, you know, they are troublesome, they’re challenging, but I find leading people. To be fun and inspiring, and I like the people I, I work with. I mean, I try to relate to the people I work with as I do anybody else and not put myself on a pedestal. But then I’m just one of them trying to make, you know, make a good living and do a good job at what I do. And people seem to respond well.

Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: You mentioned your interest in healthcare back when you joined Blue Cross Blue Shield, but has healthcare been a good place for your entrepreneurial interests? Been.

Ben Lytle: Yeah. And I think it is for the future, for many people because it, you know, again, it’s essential, it’s complicated and there’s so much that needs to be done to make it better and to modernize it. I mean, we shouldn’t accept. The that healthcare is gonna [00:10:00] always be inflationary. We shouldn’t accept that. We should have the attitude more like tech companies that next year we’re gonna give you twice as much for less. And that’s a big stretch for healthcare. But we don’t have that thinking and we need to. And and so, it’s a great opera. It’s a great field for entrepreneurs because so many places where you can create value and and that’s what an entrepreneur’s all.

Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: For the entrepreneurs in the audience can you share with us, generally speaking, what areas of healthcare. Do represent good entrepreneurial opportunities.

Ben Lytle: Well there, there’s a lot. But a few Right off the bat is, That, you know, we, people are now really seeing something that demographers have known for 25 years, which is that we’ve, we’re, we are now producing fewer people. You know, we, we are actually we have the birth rates have fallen worldwide and [00:11:00] they’ve really fallen in developed countries. And we’re just, you know, we don’t have as many young people and. One of that, that creates a challenge, but also an opportunity. We don’t have enough doctors. We don’t have enough nurses, and that problem’s gonna get worse before it gets better. So technology and other solutions that can cause us to be able to have one Doctor Sey, more patients, have one nurse influence more, more patients and help patients. Anything that improves that productivity is huge.

Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Yeah. Well that’s super. Why don’t we turn to your new book. The potential is you envision this as actually the first in a three-part series. So what led you to think about a series Ben?

Ben Lytle: Every year, right after the first year, I take a few days over a couple of weeks, and I just look at my life. I stand back and I say, you know, who am I? What am I doing? Am I living to my [00:12:00] potential? Am I doing something that really matters to the peop for the people I love? And for other people as well? And that’s me As and I wanted to bring out the best in the people that I led in in management and my family and others, help them become their best. And then the other thing I became very interested in my early twenties was the futurists and the science fiction writers, because li as being a potential, as looks at the individual’s potential science fiction writers and futurists to me, look at. Potential for humanity. So to me, they were one and the same. So anyway, as a result of that, I’ve always followed the latest thinking on the future. And so around 2014 it hit me that the most people, the vast majority of the people in the United States and the world for that matter, have no idea what’s coming and what’s coming is gonna completely. How we [00:13:00] work, the lifestyles we live. And even what we are as a human being, all that’s gonna change as a result of a series of converging factors demography and particularly technology and medical science. That convergence is gonna create an entirely new world. So I thought, you know, I, I’ve got three adult children, very smart, successful people, and I’ve got eight grand. And I’ve gotta make sure they get it where we’re going and what they need to do differently. And so, as I started working with people in the publishing industry, they said, several of them said you know, people who are authors and publishers and so forth they said, Mr. Lele, this is really good stuff. Nobody’s writing specifically about what you ought to do to get ready for the. They write about the future, but not how it’s gonna affect us. You ought to publish this. So that’s what led me to the three book [00:14:00] series.

Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: It’s an interesting idea and certainly a very interesting book. Now, the new reality piece of this is really important in there you’ve defined health, wealth, and success as being three keys of this new reality. Can you work us through that, Ben and basically how you arrived at that and each of those three keys health, wealth, and success. How do you think about that?

Ben Lytle: I don’t think we’ve done real well. Quite frankly, on those three.. As a general rule we haven’t done what we can individually, To optimize our health and live a healthy life. If you look at savings rates in the United States, then the number of people and the amount of people who don’t have enough saved to retire or live in their later years, much less pay for increasing costs of healthcare. We haven’t really done what we need to do. and on the success side, we’ve unfortunately let fame, money, [00:15:00] power, and appearance become the measures of success. And that really isn’t what success is. So I thought, well, you know, that was a big problem. I mean, it’s already a problem. Now look into the future and people are gonna live longer. They’re gonna live 10, 20, 30 years. Well, if you don’t, if you don’t how are you gonna finance those extra years? How are you gonna to, if you have to work? Because you know, pretty, it’s pretty clear that retirement’s not gonna be the same as it is today. You’re gonna live longer, you’re gonna have to work longer. So how are you gonna have the health to do that? How are you gonna finance those extra years? And since money, fame, power, appearance are all transitory over a longer life, you can’t use that as the measure of success. So, so that’s what the book is about, is not, is first of all trying to raise awareness. You need to [00:16:00] be thinking about living longer and how are you gonna do. because nobody’s gonna do it for you. Nobody’s in Washington’s thinking about how they’re gonna help you do this. And they’re not going to, it’s up to you. And then think about living your life where your success measure is you trying to achieve your own individual potential. So I’ve tried to create a practical way for how do you do that, which in the book I call Optimal Health Optimal. And optimal success. And and so that, that’s become a real passion of mine. Obviously, , you can tell by the way I’m talking about it.

Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Well, it’s an excellent book. I advise everybody to to read it, and it’s a good engaging read. Ben, this has been a, just a terrific interview. We appreciate you being with us today. I have one final question if I could, and that is for the up and coming leaders in our audience, what advice would you have for them, particularly up and coming healthcare [00:17:00] leaders? What advice would you have for.

Ben Lytle: We’re entering an age because of. our convergence with technology, we’re gonna become basically seamless with technology. Where it’s almost hard to tell where the human being stops and the technology begins and vice versa. And if we really, anyone really doubts that statement. Ask yourself, how different are you now than you are before you had a. There’s the perfect example. That’s the begin. That’s the beginning. So what are you gonna do with all that increased power and capability? What are you gonna do with it? You can make the world a better place or you can make it a worse place. And so for leaders and entrepreneurs I would say go at the world to make it better. Seriously, cuz it the one thing about this convergence between us and technology is that we can [00:18:00] make the impossible. So I hope to live long enough and to contribute through my own entrepreneurial activities and investments making what sounded impossible possible so we can have a healthier society, we can afford our aging population and to give them a good life if we go at it, right? So I would. Think big think aggressive and be very action oriented to as you try to make the world a better place and live to your potential.

Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Well, it’s terrific advice and it’s actually a terrific model of your career. Ben, thank you very much for being with us today. It’s been our pleasure.

Ben Lytle: Thank you, Gary. I enjoyed it.

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