These days, Daniel J. Hilferty leads Independence Blue Cross, the region's largest health insurer. Hilferty's clearly done quite well with the job -- he's earned enough over the years to raise and educate five children and the whole family can retreat to a second home in Ocean City.
Yet, clearly, Hilferty sees this job -- and the job he held prior to it -- being the head of the AmeriHealth Mercy (now AmeriHealth Caritas), Independence Blue Cross's Medicaid subsidiary, as a form of public service. As it turns out, his current job has its roots in his relative lack of talent as a basketball player.
"I wanted to be a basketball player as a little boy, but as I grew older, I realized that I had a level of skill in basketball [that was] not good enough to be a professional," Hilferty told me in our Leadership Agenda interview, published in Monday's Inquirer. So instead, "I worked in playgrounds, and was very involved in communities around those playgrounds.
"After college, I joined a group similar to the Peace Corps called the Jesuit Volunteer Corps and ran a community center in Portland, Oregon. We needed funding and I went to City Hall to get funding. I realized that a) I really enjoyed community service, and b) being involved in the political process," he said.
After losing in his one bid for public office, Hilferty concluded, perhaps wisely, that "it wasn't the political fray I liked, it was public policy. I wanted to combine community service and public policy. Where better to exercise both of those [than] in health care? So that's how I got onto the healthcare track."
Hilferty joined Mercy Health System as a government affairs officer and then moved to head AmeriHealth Mercy, now AmeriHealth Caritas.
I asked him why he liked the Medicaid business so much. (Medicaid, by the way, is government-paid health insurance for the poor.)
"All my jobs have been based in the community," Hilferty said. "In order to make Medicaid managed care work, you need to know the community."
This is where my reporter cynicism kicked in. How, I asked him, does a person with so much privilege know about the "community?" Hilferty didn't use that moment, although he could have, to remind me that his father had died of lung cancer at the age of 38, when Hilferty was three years old, the youngest in a large family.
"We are all human beings trying to work our way through this thing called life, so let's put that to health care. Here's what I think: Regardless of people's economic status, they want to be treated with respect, they want to feel good about themselves, and ... they want to have access to things that can help them and their families," he said.
I pressed him a little more.
"Here's what I know," he said, pulling his insurance ID card from his wallet.
"Pre Medicaid-managed care, people would wait in line in a clinic or in an emergency room for care that varied in level and quality," he said. "When Medicaid-managed care came out, and forgive me, I'm going to use my ID card, that person who was Medicaid eligible or one of the people who own the Inquirer, they both had a card that they could access care through a primary care physician with dignity and they were going to be treated with the utmost respect.
"So for me, helping create the gateway for those less fortunate to access the same level of health care, to make the same choices as I can in health care, that for me was the most rewarding."
Click here to read Monday's blog post on how Hilferty came to realize that he would be a good leader .