“What I wanted to do was make a difference,” says Berman, 67, “and the difference I wanted to make was to make the quality of life better in our communities. Later, much later, I recognized that one of the ways for me to do that was to become a chief executive because then you had the ability to marshal all these resources. Becoming a chief executive was the price I had to pay to have that opportunity.”
“He used to talk about Main Street vs. Wall Street,” recalls David Klein, who served as chief operating officer under Berman at the Rochester Blues and has been president and CEO since he retired. “He wanted the dollars to flow to Main Street before it was a campaign pledge.”
During his years in Rochester, at what was then known as Excellus Blue Cross and Blue Shield, and prior to that as Blue Cross and Blue Shield of the Rochester Area—Berman led changes on many fronts. The plan is now the Lifetime Healthcare Cos., and Excellus continues as a subsidiary of Lifetime.
The organization became the largest provider of home-care services in upstate New York, owned an inpatient and outpatient hospice, created a palliative-care program for chronically and terminally ill children, created a long-term-care insurance company, acquired an HMO in the Buffalo area, merged three Blue Cross plans into one and extended coverage on a parent's insurance up to age 26—15 years before the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act required it.
“We tried to hire people who were better than me and set them off in an agreed-upon direction, and then run around underneath them with a safety net so that if they fell off the tightrope, they wouldn't get hurt,” Berman says. “I tried hard to nurture their skills and make it clear that when things went wrong, I would take the heat, and if things went right, and they did the work, they got the credit.”