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In the C-Suite: Nick Moriello; President of Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield Delaware

Katie Tabeling
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Nick Moriello | PHOTO COURTESY OF HIGHMARK BLUE CROSS BLUE SHIELD DELAWARE

WILMINGTON — Looking back on his early years, Nick Moriello did not envision himself in the insurance sector but a test scheduled one fateful summer may have changed his course.

“I just came home after freshman year at DeSales University and I couldn’t wait to go to the beach. I’ll never forget, my dad told me, ‘You have an insurance producer licensing exam on Saturday.’ It was Wednesday,” Moriello said.

His father, who worked on commission with Health Insurance Associates, thought he would be a natural. Moriello failed the first exam — but drawing on his competitive spirit, he retook it as soon as possible and passed.

From then on, Moriello joined his father selling health insurance on his summer breaks and part-time throughout the year.

Soon after Moriello graduated with a degree in management, JPMorgan Chase opened an insurance agency. Chase was looking for staff that held management or finance degrees, but also with an insurance producer license. In the 1990s, most people who worked in insurance did not hold college degrees — but thanks to his father’s foresight, Moriello was able to get into Chase’s new enterprise from the ground up.

Through Chase’s mentorship programs and leaning on his unique background, he became one of the youngest management officers. But when Chase decided to close the office, Moriello decided to take a negative and turn it into a positive.

“I met my wife there, but I also discovered my entrepreneurial spirit. I asked to stay on to close the office, but I was able to start building a commission base without breaking the non-compete clause,” Moriello said. “I guess my dad recognized me before I recognized myself.”

He then joined his father at Health Insurance Associates, and started to work on updating the business model. While there were excellent products being sold, he found the client base did not fully recognize its potential.

“So I thought if we had a partner that did have a need for preference, we would be much more successful,” he said. “Then it became my mission to land a wholesale contract with Blue Cross Blue Shield Delaware.”

The wholesale contract gave Health Insurance Associates access to back-office support and training they may not have had otherwise, but it also allowed them to market two products together. Over time, Moriello bought his father and the partners out of the business and grew the firm to be the biggest private agency in the state, with 20 employees and 300 contractors.

“I used to be adverse to change, but in a chaotic environment, there’s room for opportunity,” he said. “I thought, if we overcome risks and laser focus on the things we did very well, we would avoid the trap of becoming jack of all trades and master of none. It’s how you separate yourself from your competitors.”

Then came the Affordable Care Act, the biggest shake up in the insurance sector in recent memory. Moriello started looking through the law itself, page by page, and realized it was made with little technical guidance. So he started making calls to Washington, D.C., to offer some insight to fix the “technical glitches.”

Through this process, he got connected to the National Association of Health Underwriters and was asked to serve on its legislative committee.

At that point, Moriello said organizations started to take notice and “suitors came calling.” In 2016 he accepted an offer with Savoy Associates, which later merged with Ascela Partners. Moriello oversaw the company continue to build a strong foundation of Medicare products and open a Delaware office. Later on, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield tapped him for a Delaware leadership role.

“I was flattered, but I also wondered why. They had people all over the country who worked for Blue Cross ready for this role, or they could have looked at those in a leadership position at the competition,” he said. “But what they were looking for was someone to rebuild relationships in Delaware with the hospital systems and legislators.”

Now on the third anniversary of taking over Highmark Delaware, he’s worked to build the company as one that belongs to the First State with the backing of a large company behind it. Highmark just announced a tentative collaborationwith ChristianaCare and Bayhealth on Medicare Advantage, which would provide more healthcare options that would be covered for Delawareans.

“Of all the things I wanted from a career is finding ways to solve problems in the insurance industry. The main things we were struggling with, early on, was health care was becoming unaffordable by so many. What makes Delaware great is that a handful of entities have a lot of market share – and we have easy access to each other,” he said. “It’s encouraging to see what progress we’ve made, and with our partnerships, I really think we have the opportunity to do something different for the community.”

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