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Spreading the right health care message is part of the wellness equation

Nora McGuire and her staffs at the two largest insurers in Western New York have had a tough job during the last quarter century – trying to sell the public on making healthier choices during a time when obesity, diabetes and other chronic disease rates have climbed.

McGuire, 61, of the Town of Tonawanda – subject of this weekend's In the Field feature in WNY Refresh – has been senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Independent Health for the last four years. Before that, she worked in a similar capacity for roughly half of her nearly 30 years at BlueCross BlueShield of WNY.

We talked during a recent interview mostly about the Susan G. Komen Western New York Race for the Cure, which McGuire, a trained nurse and business administrator, has helped run since it started 15 years ago. For her work, she last month was honored with the Komen Foundation chapter's Nora McGuire Volunteer of the Year Award.

Register for this year's race, June 13, at

We also talked about how the Affordable Care Act continues to change the health care system.

Below are her answers to questions I didn’t have room for in the print edition:

Q. What have you learned about human nature in all your jobs?

People need to make their own choices and they need to understand the implication of those choices, and not run away because it’s confusing or too hard. People have good intentions, and desire. Everyone wants to be healthy. No one wants to be sick. But I think that sometimes people blame the system, blame the doctor, blame the hospital. People need to take more accountability for their own health and the health of their family.

Q. Talk about Obamacare.

The Affordable Care Act made major changes in health care and there’s a lot more cost-sharing of the member happening than ever before.

It’s a complex business. It’s complex for people to understand their benefit designs. So how do we try to simplify that and make people understand that things like preventative care they can have at no cost.

Years ago, people paid a co-pay when they went to the doctor, probably didn’t pay anything when they went to the hospital, and maybe paid $25 when they went to the emergency room. Now, there’s much higher co-pays and there’s a co-pay for many of our products if you go into the hospital. Many of our plans have higher deductibles. Years ago, you didn’t see deductibles at all. Now you see deductibles as high as $2,000, $3,000, which means that people pay that out of their pocket. That’s significant money for anybody, so the increasing cost share gives us the opportunity to educate people on making the right decisions on what services they’re seeking.

Despite the deductibles, there’s zero co-pay for preventative services, so part of what we’re trying to do is educate people about that. It’s so easy for people to go to their doctor and get their preventative work and have their mammogram, pap smears and colonoscopies and the things they should have. All of the cost sharing I’m talking about doesn’t apply for preventative care.

Q. What has it been like to work at BlueCross BlueShield and Independent Health?

We compete in all lines of business, so there’s a lot of similarities in the standpoint of the market. The major difference is the culture of the organizations. I’ve loved all my jobs along the way but the culture of Independent Health is just so inviting to work in.

The business itself is going through dramatic changes requiring all of us to reinvent ourselves and look at  what we need to do to continue to support our mission. Every organization is going through that and we’re going through it.

Q. In terms of strategy, what are some of the areas where you focus your time?

The majority of them are what products, benefits and services we offer to our customers, and how we can differentiate ourselves there, and offering the best set of products and services at a price point that is competitive in the marketplace. That’s probably the biggest. Second to that is how do we communicate them and market them, strengthen and evolve the Independent Health brand that focuses on health and the health of our members?

How do we encourage people to be engaged in their health? That’s another area we spend a lot of time in. We want our messaging, marketing and all of our communications to help people become engaged in their own health. That is such a huge driver of health care, health-care cost, health care quality.

Q. How has Obamacare changed the landscape?

There’s more regulation. There’s more standardization. It’s harder to be innovated in product design because the products are standardized. On the other hand, the products are standardized so that over time it should become easier for people to understand. … There’s definitely more cost-sharing and, on the very positive side, more people have coverage. And if more people have coverage, they can go and seek the preventative services they need.

Q. What still needs fixing in health insurance?

We as a society need to take more accountability for ourselves and our own health. They also need to work closer with their doctor, become more engaged with their primary care physician, who can help coordinate their care across the health care system.

Q. Let’s talk about Race for the Cure. What does a race director of operations do? It sounds pretty daunting and time-consuming for a volunteer.

It has been. The fact that we’ve had continuity in so many of our committees makes it a little easier because you’ve done it year after year. But it is massive. There’s a lot of people so this is not, by any means, a job done by Nora McGuire. My claim to fame is I’ve recruited a lot of really good, talented, dedicated people, and that’s what I am proudest of. It’s the work of many to make this happen.

My job for the last five or six years as director of operations is making sure that the venue is set up properly. The tents and the food are there and the race course is set up, that the roads are closed. We have volunteers at each corner. It goes on and on. There is a race season in my house. I say in my house, “It’s Komen season,” just like you would say, “It’s Christmastime.” From September to April it’s probably only a few hours a month. From May through June it gradually increases to a good 10 hours a week and on race week, it’s hard to get any other work done. I take off the Friday before. We have our meetings on Saturdays because most other volunteers are working, too.

Q. Can you share one of two touching stories?

Race morning is so hectic for me. I’m running around like a chicken with my head cut off. There was a woman who was holding a baby, maybe an 8-month-old, and she stopped to ask a question on behalf of her daughter, who was 30 years old and going through chemotherapy and had lost her hair and wanted to be there with the other breast cancer survivors. She was so young. And here’s the grandmother holding this little baby, there to help support her daughter. I just remember hugging them and crying, because here’s this young woman, similar to the age of my daughters, going through a tough time.

Also, there was this co-worker of mine who was going through breast cancer and wanted to work on the committee. She helped do the survivor tent and got sicker and passed. Her name was Linda Snyder and her husband, Bob Snyder, came back year after year. Her kids were there every year and came back after Linda passed and helped to continue their mother’s passion.

Q. How do you feel about an award given to you – in your name?

I’m honored, of course, but there are so many people who do so much work. I’ve continued to bring in people who are very active and very involved. This award is for all of them, not for me. I’m fortunate it has my name on it, but I will be happier when I’m able to give the award to other volunteers.


Twitter: @BNrefresh

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