Litos a leader

By Walt Sorg

Consumers Mutual Insurance, Michigan’s newest health insurer, is ambitious. Its mission is to be “recognized as Michigan’s plan of choice for patient-centered care, disease management, lower costs, and greater access for individuals, families and the business community” by 2018.

To accomplish its vision, the company has turned to someone who has been a key player in mid-Michigan healthcare, Dennis Litos.

Litos, who spent a decade running Ingham Regional Medical Center (now McLaren Greater Lansing) is CEO of Consumers Mutual. It is a one-of-a-kind, member-owned insurer that will focus on providing lower-income families and small businesses with health insurance as part of the federal Affordable Healthcare Act.

The move from leading a large healthcare system to running a small insurer is a logical next step for someone focused on better healthcare, according to anesthesiologist Ken Elmassian, a former medical chief of staff at Ingham.

“His real passion is making sure people get healthcare. He’s one of those quality leaders who really puts patients first,” Elmassian said. “His priority is doing what it takes to make sure everyone possible gets quality healthcare while keeping the system as efficient as possible.”

Litos’ roots are firmly embedded in Michigan. A native of Detroit, he holds degrees from Wayne State and Central Michigan universities, along with a master’s degree in health care administration from Trinity University in San Antonio. He began his career as a credit manager at a Detroit-area hospital in 1977, moving to Clinton Memorial Hospital in St. Johns in 1982. He became chief operating officer of Lansing General Hospital in 1986 and became CEO of Ingham Regional Medical Center six years later.

At Ingham, he was in charge of a healthcare system with several thousand employees. Consumers Mutual begins with about three-dozen employees.

“I think for him this will be a nice change,” said Joan Bauer, who worked for Litos at Ingham before her election to the state House of Representatives in 2006. “He’ll get a chance to be much more hands-on, to work more directly with his team.”

In a decade at Ingham, Litos, 64, led an expansion that included the Women’s and Child Center, Breslin Cancer Center and Ingham Regional Orthopedic Hospital. He set in motion the creation of the Chi Heart & Surgery Center, which was under construction when he departed in 2006 to run Doctors Medical Center in Modesto, Calif., a 470-bed hospital at the cutting edge of neonatal intensive care and trauma care.

He had always planned to return to mid-Michigan.

“I missed my friends and family back here. After I finished my contract (at Doctors Medical Center), I decided I didn’t want to do it on the hospital side anymore.”

His plan was to consult with hospitals on implementation of the Affordable Care Act. But when he was introduced to Consumers Mutual, he saw an opportunity to have a more direct impact.

“We’ve had too many uninsured too long. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something different,” he said.

Litos, long an advocate of focusing on wellness rather than simply responding to illness, sees a transformation beginning.

“Most insurance carriers are looking at rewarding providers for managing the individual’s entire health as a coordinated process of care rather than paying per episode. A number of health system organizations are positioned to work with insurers such as us to look at population health management and share in the savings: Keeping patients out of the emergency room when possible, reducing readmissions to the hospitals.”

The initial effort will be modest. Consumers Mutual expects to enroll 36,000 people in its first year, a tiny fraction of a market dominated by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan with nearly 70 percent of all policies. But the chance to bring more competition to the marketplace and, as a result, make healthcare more accessible in the state is enough to drive Litos to effectively start a new career.

His goal, he says, is simple: “To keep our population as healthy as possible.”