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Frank Colantuono, co-founder of Independent Health

Frank Colantuono, the co-founder of Independent Health, has died after a long battle with cancer. He was 66.

Mr. Colantuono retired in 2004 after serving 20 years as president and chief executive officer of the health insurer, which is headquartered in Amherst.

While pursuing a master’s degree in health systems management at the University at Buffalo, he helped research the feasibility of creating a health maintenance organization to serve Amherst’s Audubon community. At the time, HMOs were a new concept.

He helped develop federal grant proposals that led to the development of Western New York Group Health Plan Inc., which later became Independent Health.

After graduating from UB, Mr. Colantuono started with Western New York Group Health Plan as a staff assistant and advanced to executive assistant and assistant director. In 1979, when the company was renamed Independent Health, Mr. Colantuono became vice president of finance and planning, and gained responsibility for financial policy and revenue management, controlling expenditures and managing payroll and benefit administration.

He became president and chief executive officer in 1984, and was responsible for overall plan operation, including administration, finance and planning, operations, marketing and new ventures. He also was involved with the operational activities of the Individual Practice Association of Western New York, the group of physicians with which Independent Health contracts to provide health care services for its members.

Mr. Colantuono helped the company grow. Currently, it provides health benefits and services to more than 350,000 members in Western New York and elsewhere.

Mr. Colantuono was considered skilled at seeing how the business would change over time, as reflected in 1990, when Independent Health began offering self-funded health benefits to area employers. Relatively unknown at the time, self-funding is now the fastest growing trend in health coverage.

“Frank Colantuono was a true pioneer who helped blaze a trail for Independent Health to become a leader and innovator in the health care industry, as well as a mentor and friend to many of us who shared the privilege of working with him,” said Dr. Michael Cropp, who succeeded Mr. Colantuono as president and chief executive officer of Independent Health.

Under Mr. Colantuono’s leadership, Independent Health also forged stronger partnerships with physicians. For instance, in 2000, Independent Health was the first HMO in the nation to sponsor physicians in the Idealized Design of Clinical Office Practice program, starting with two practices. Today, more than 50 practices participate in the program, which focuses on such concepts as same-day scheduling for appointments.

A Pennsylvania native who grew up in a family of 11 children, Mr. Colantuono graduated from Gannon College in Erie, Pa., and worked in sales for General Nutrition Centers and Ross Laboratories prior to attending UB. For many years, he lived in Youngstown.

In 2000, Mr. Colantuono was named co-executive of the year with Independent Health Executive Vice President Bill McHugh by the Public Relations Society of America, Buffalo/Niagara Chapter. In 1994, he was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award by UB.

“Family, friends and colleagues were all touched by Frank’s integrity, service, purpose, empathy, compassion and vision. He genuinely cared for all of our members and employees, and always put the organization’s purpose and mission first and foremost,” Cropp said.

Survivors include a son, James.

Further information on Mr. Colantuono’s death was unavailable, including service information.

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