Andrew Dreyfus, the chief executive of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, who used his high-profile role to push for health care reform in the state and beyond, is stepping down after nearly 12 years leading the state’s biggest health insurer.
Dreyfus, 63, joined Blue Cross in 2005 and has been CEO of the company since 2010. He said Thursday that he would depart by the end of this year, or whenever a successor is named.
Dreyfus is not retiring and said he will remain active in health care, most likely in Massachusetts, where he has lived and worked most of his life.
“It was a difficult decision, because I love this company and I love working in the Massachusetts health care community,” he said in an interview Thursday after announcing his exit. “But it felt like a time for change.”
“I wanted to leave when I still have the energy and drive to work on health system change,” he added. “I want to stay active in making health care better and more equitable.”
Dreyfus has become one of the state’s most prominent health care leaders, known well beyond the walls of his Boston-based insurance company. He was among those who pushed for universal health coverage, which Massachusetts largely achieved through a landmark 2006 law signed by Governor Mitt Romney.
The Massachusetts health law became a blueprint for the national Affordable Care Act.
Dreyfus has traveled the country giving talks about the work of health care reform in Massachusetts and the ongoing challenge of containing health care costs.
“That’s been the magic of this job for me, the ability to influence broader change in health care,” he said.
During his time at Blue Cross, the company launched a first-of-its-kind initiative to change the way doctors are paid. Instead of paying them for each office visit, test, and procedure — the traditional fee-for-service payment model — Blue Cross started rewarding doctors for providing higher-quality care.
That payment program has grown over the past decade, and last year Blue Cross said it would start considering health equity in the formula and reward doctors who close longstanding gaps in care for Black, Hispanic, and Asian people.
Health care leaders nationally still have much work to do to make health care affordable and to reduce health disparities for people of color, Dreyfus said.
Stuart Altman, who chairs the state’s Health Policy Commission, a panel that monitors the health care market, has worked with many health insurance executives across the country during his career. But Dreyfus, he said, is one of a kind.
“Many of the other CEOs are fine people, but they don’t have the grasp of our health care system the way Andrew does,” Altman said.
Most of the other insurance company CEOs come from finance, sales, and marketing, said Altman, who also is a professor of health policy at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University. But Dreyfus came up through the nonprofit sector. That, Altman said, gave him a more keen sense of real people and their very real health problems.
“A CEO of a company has to be concerned about its bottom line, and a lot of CEOs don’t even know what the implications are of doing certain things and not others,” Altman said. “The fact that [Dreyfus] had this broader vision allowed him to balance it all.”
Dreyfus also earned the respect of hospital leaders, despite the natural tension between hospitals and insurance companies: Hospitals depend on health insurance reimbursements, and insurance companies hold the purse strings.
Even though they tangled at times, Dreyfus has been a “peacock in a world of crows,” said Jack Connors, former chairman of the board of Partners HealthCare, now known as Mass General Brigham, the state’s largest health care system.
“There was no love lost between providers and payers, but there was mutual respect,” Connors said.
“What you really need when you are a provider talking to an insurer [is] you want people to have understanding and flexibility, because there is nothing about health care that coincides with one-size-fits-all,” Connors said. “He was able to sort of see the forest for the trees on that.”
Connors, a founding partner and former chief executive of the marketing firm Hill Holliday, described Dreyfus as innovative in his management style, such as by increasing diversity in the workplace before many companies were focused on diversity.
More than half the board of directors at Blue Cross are women or people of color.
Blue Cross, a nonprofit health insurer, provides coverage for 2.9 million members through some 24,000 employers. Most of its members have private health plans, while others have Medicare coverage.
The company employs about 3,700 and collects more than $8 billion in annual revenue.
Health insurance has evolved during Dreyfus’s tenure and now includes greater use of technology and data. During the COVID pandemic, for example, Blue Cross could identify which of its members were most at risk for getting sick with the virus, based on their health care history. Blue Cross nurses called those patients to urge them to get vaccinated.
Dorothy Puhy, chair of the Blue Cross board, praised Dreyfus’s work on complex issues such as end-of-life care, substance use disorder, and racial disparities in health care.
“Andrew is an exceptional and visionary leader who has always put the interests of our members and employer customers at the center of everything we do,” she said in a statement.
The company is beginning a national search for a new CEO.
Priyanka Dayal McCluskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @priyanka_dayal. Kay Lazar can be reached at email@example.com Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKayLazar.