Company History

The Start of a Legacy

It all started with a priest, a businessman and a journalist. South Carolina Monsignor George Lewis Smith, Roger Huntington of the Greenville Hospital Benefit Association, and Columbia journalist George Buchanan shared a vision. They wanted to create a nonprofit, prepaid hospital plan for the Palmetto State.original BlueCross office sign

With the support of the community, the men began lobbying the General Assembly for legislation to begin the company. Their vision became a reality in 1946 when the General Assembly passed legislation to create the South Carolina Hospital Service Plan. That's the original name for what is now BlueCross — BlueShield would come along later!

In 1946, a loaf of bread cost a dime. You could fly from Columbia to Atlanta for just $9.50! And our first board of directors met in April, electing Roger Huntington as the company's first president.

The next few months were busy ones for the new company. Before the State Insurance Commission would issue us a charter, we had to show we had at least $5,000 in assets. Funds from across the state started to come in, and on Dec. 11, 1946, the South Carolina Hospital Service Plan received its charter. The following spring, the company merged with the Hospital Benefit Association of Greenville, which gave us an early financial base. By the end of that year, we were insuring almost 30,000 people.

Our first office was on Main Street in Greenville. In the summer of 1946, we landed a major client — Uncle Sam. We earned what would be the first of many federal government contracts, handling civilian health care payments for Veterans Administration beneficiaries. By 1948, we had a net income of $27,000 and six field representatives. We were on our way.

In the meantime, BlueShield was getting off the ground. In 1949, BlueShield got its charter as a nonprofit group that covered doctors' services. With the backing of the South Carolina Medical Association, BlueShield began signing up doctors to participate in the plan. A year later, BlueShield received its license from the state insurance department. It then hired BlueCross to administer, sell and promote its contracts. This was the beginning of an exciting partnership.

Our first president, Roger Huntington, retired in 1950. George Buchanan took the reins and gave 32 years of service to the effort. He viewed his participation as a public service and took no salary for his hard work.

Coming to Columbia

In 1957, BlueCross moved from Greenville to Columbia's Five Points area. The move wasn't a fancy one — we had temporary office space in an old grocery store! But business was about to boom.

In 1961, BlueCross received a whole new line of business from Uncle Sam — the Federal Employee Program contract. We still hold this contract today, and have earned our place in history as consistently ranking No. 1 in service among all Blues Plans.

In 1962, we bought our very first computer. It filled a room of almost 300 square feet! We moved into our current headquarters in 1966 — I-20 East at Alpine Road. Our move was just in time to land two huge federal contracts as the Medicare program launched into history.

Medicare is a federal insurance program for seniors and people with disabilities. When the Medicare program started, South Carolina hospitals moved quickly to get involved. The hospitals nominated BlueCross to handle the contract for Medicare Part A, which handles hospital services. The federal government then chose BlueShield to handle the contract for Medicare Part B, which handles doctors’ services. Teaming up with Medicare in the early days would prove a great success — eventually leading to the formation of separate, subsidiary companies to handle Medicare and other federal contracts.

In 1969, the South Carolina Legislature repealed the legislation that created BlueCross and BlueShield. This made the businesses mutual insurance companies. For the first time, the companies could offer major medical benefits and would get the same treatment as all other mutual insurers.

Innovations in Health Plan Design

The 1970s were an exciting decade for us. We introduced new benefits to hold down costs. We began preventive care programs to help customers improve their health. One of the most important events in our history occurred in 1971. That's when BlueCross and BlueShield merged into one company. We also completed building our tower office, now a landmark for locals and visitors to Columbia. And there was a changing of the guard. Joe Sullivan became president of the company in 1971. An aggressive businessman, he had a strong vision for the company's future.

We entered the 1980s with enthusiasm, introducing new products and services and landing new federal contracts. During this time, we added doctors and hospitals to our preferred provider organization (PPO). In 1984, we created our first health maintenance organization (HMO), BlueChoice® HealthPlan (originally called Companion HealthCare). Now one of the most successful HMOs in South Carolina, BlueChoice HealthPlan is accredited by the National Committee for Quality Assurance. This is an honor few HMOs can claim.

In 1987, BlueCross got a new president, Ed Sellers, who came to us from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. Just a few years later, in 1992, Joe Sullivan retired as chief executive officer after 21 years of service. His service left a permanent mark on the company and the community. He led the company to financial stability, strength and an excellent reputation in the health benefits industry. Ed Sellers then became our chief executive officer, with Mr. Sullivan serving as chairman of our board. In 2001, Ed Sellers was named chairman of the board and Joe Sullivan was named chairman emeritus. In 2003, we launched the BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina Foundation to support organizations and programs that promote the health of South Carolinians, particularly those who are uninsured or underinsured.

Evolution in health plan design also continued into the start of the 21st century, with BlueCross leading the way. We introduced consumer-driven health plans and value-based incentive plans. This latest generation of health plans promotes wellness and encourages members with particular health concerns to seek appropriate care — and then rewards them when they do so.

In 2009, we launched our first patient-centered medical home focusing on diabetic patients of a Charleston-based primary care practice. A patient-centered medical home is a model of care that involves the primary care physician as the leader of a team. This team — which can include specialists, nurses, pharmacists, disease managers, clinical diabetes educators, social workers and more — works together to develop and implement specific treatment plans for each patient with a chronic condition. The goal of a patient-centered medical home is to improve outcomes for patients while lowering costs. Based on the early success of this first program, we have since launched several more patient-centered medical homes throughout the state, focusing on diabetes, back pain and congestive heart failure. 

A Strategic Business Model

How is BlueCross able to participate in every consumer market in our state, offer a wide variety of health plans and initiate innovative health benefit designs or payment models? We follow a business diversification strategy that helps us create scale. Since the early ’70s, BlueCross has launched subsidiary companies that offer products and services outside of the health insurance arena and our state’s geographic boundaries. This includes subsidiaries for life insurance; property and casualty insurance; medical tourism provider networks; behavioral benefits and data services. We’ve also taken the expertise we developed early on in the government programs arena and spun off separate companies to help us build these lines of business.

We’ve done all this to create scale which, in turn, helps us lower our administrative costs, leverage our technical capabilities and maintain our stable financial position. It also lets us be flexible and highly adaptable to all of our customers — and to try new things that will help us improve patient outcomes and lower health care costs.

Now, More Than 65 Years Later ...BlueCross headquarters

Today, we serve nearly a million South Carolinians. Largely due to the growth of our government programs and subsidiary companies, we have more than 11,000 employees, earning us honors as a top employer for the state. We are the only insurance company in South Carolina that offers health insurance products in every consumer segment: individuals and families; small employer groups and large ones; people with Medicare; and families and children on Medicaid. We also provide administrative services to employers and government entities that want to self-fund their employee health plans.

David Pankau now serves as CEO. A veteran of BlueCross for nearly 20 years, Mr. Pankau’s tenure at BlueCross has included stints as president of the BlueCross BlueShield insurance division and president of BlueChoice HealthPlan of South Carolina. Ed Sellers remains chairman of the board of directors. Joe Sullivan currently serves as chairman of the board's executive committee.

Thanks to the leadership of these men as well as the talents and skills of thousands of BlueCross employees, we consistently rank as one of the top Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plans in the nation. We continue to research new products and increase our efforts to offer South Carolinians secure, cost-efficient health care coverage. After more than 65 years of service, we are still dedicated to serving our community. And we're looking forward to the challenges ahead.

BlueChoice HealthPlan is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association