Hillegonds to lead Health Endowment Fund

Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News

Lansing — Former state legislator Paul Hillegonds has been named executive director of the Michigan Health Endowment Fund, the fund’s board announced Monday.

The fund was created when the Michigan Legislature authorized Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan’s conversion to a mutual insurance company. Under the 2013 law, the insurer is required to contribute up to $1.56 billion over 18 years to the Michigan Health Endowment Fund.

Hillegonds, a Republican, served as co-speaker of the Michigan House in the early 1990s, alongside Democrat Curtis Hertel. The unique arrangement resulted from an even split between GOP and Democratic representatives during the 1993-94 legislative session.

“Creating the Michigan Health Endowment Fund was a priority for me because of the positive impacts I knew it would have on the lives of Michigan residents,” Gov. Rick Snyder said in a Monday statement. “The appointment of Paul Hillegonds as chief executive officer marks yet another significant step in these efforts, and I’m confident that Paul’s leadership and experience will carry forth the work of the board to improve health outcomes for children and older adults in Michigan."

By law, money in the fund must be spent for projects to improve public health and reduce health care costs. The Blues paid $1 million for it’s first installment last year, and paid out nearly $40 million in health care grants., according to Rob Fowler, chairman of the Health Endowment Fund Board.

With interest accrued on the $1.56 million, the endowment must accumulate a $750 million principal balance by its twelfth year, Fowler said. Money for the health care grants will come from earnings on the principal.

“In the long term, the intent is that the fund will be ongoing and self-sustaining,” Fowler noted.

Hillegonds was selected as the fund’s inaugural leader because of his unique combination of political, business and philanthropic experience, Fowler said. In addition to many public roles, Hillegonds was the senior vice president of corporate affairs at DTE Energy from 2005 until his retirement in 2014. He currently serves as board chairman of the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan and trustee on the boards of the Kresge Foundation and Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan.

“The first CEO is perhaps the most important because (the person selected) will set the standard and the pace,” Fowler said. “We needed somebody who understood the legislature, but also the role of the endowment fund.

“Paul has served on the Kresge Foundation Board for many years, and he understands philanthropy. The fund itself has a duty to report to the Legislature, so we (also) needed somebody who was savvy about state public policy.”

Hillegonds Monday said the endowment’s focus, in addition to reducing health care costs, will be on projects that improve the health of children and senior citizens.

“A big early task will be the strategic planning of our funding,” Hillegonds said. “(The endowment) will make an enormous contribution to the health and wellness of Michigan children and seniors for years to come.

“I’m very excited about it, it’s an opportunity to make a difference.”

KBouffard@detroitnews.com