Published in Health Care
Joan Budden Joan Budden COURTESY PHOTO

Budden to retire as CEO of Priority Health

BY Wednesday, July 15, 2020 04:19pm

GRAND RAPIDS — Priority Health President and CEO Joan Budden plans to retire at the end of 2020 after 12 years with the health plan, the last five as its chief executive.

Budden’s retirement takes effect Jan. 1, 2021. She’ll remain active as CEO until then to ensure a smooth transition to new leadership.

She plans her departure “knowing the company is in a strong position” and “has allowed me to plan for the next chapter in my life, which includes spending more time with family and continuing my passion for mentoring and community service,” Budden said.

“I just feel like we’re clicking on all cylinders,” Budden said this afternoon in a brief interview with MiBiz. “I’ve been able to accomplish my vision of what I thought Priority Health could be and it’s just in the best shape.”

The Grand Rapids-based Priority Health in 2019 recorded $188 million in net income across all lines of business. The earnings came on revenues of $4.17 billion from commercial, individual, Medicare and Medicaid health policies, $118.0 million in operating income and higher investment earnings of $69.7 million.

Budden’s decision to retire this year also stems from personal reasons. She cites the COVID-19 pandemic and the death at the beginning of the year of her husband’s sister, who was just three days younger than her.

“It was a shocking reminder of how short life is, and then COVID hit,” she said. “This is one of those things where incidents occurred and it was time to think about what’s really important in life.”

Spectrum Health, which owns a 93.9-percent stake in Priority, has retained Furst Group, a Rockford, Ill.-based executive search firm, for an internal and external national search for the next president of Priority Health, the second-largest health plan based in Michigan with nearly 1 million members, double that of a decade ago.

The 59-year-old Budden joined Priority Health from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan in 2009 as chief marketing officer and became president and CEO in January 2016 after Mike Freed retired.

Under her leadership, Priority Health most recently acquired Detroit-based Total Health Care in a deal completed at the start of 2020. In June, Priority Health finalized a deal with national commercial health insurance carrier Cigna Health Corp. that takes effect Jan. 1 and gives members access to a wider care network across the U.S.

“Joan’s focus on affordability and value have been vital in advancing us toward our vision of personalized health made simple, affordable and exceptional,” Spectrum Health President and CEO Tina Freese Decker said in a statement. “She cares deeply about the company but more importantly she cares about individuals — and is willing to give generously of her time and talent to mentor others.”

Budden serves on the boards at the Detroit and Grand Rapids Economic Clubs, Van Andel Institute, Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, UFP Industries Inc., Independent Bank Corp. and Alliance of Community Health Plans. Michigan Women Forward named Budden its 2020 Woman of Achievement and Courage Award, one of three women leaders recognized statewide.

As far as any advice for her successor, “be brave, to think big, take chances, (although) mitigated chances, of course,” she said.

“Health care is going to change dramatically and that’s an opportunity to really have an impact on people getting good, quality care that is more accessible than it’s been in the past,” Budden said. “There is opportunity to work collectively with providers and to think out of the box and do things differently.”

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