Statement by Michael W. Cropp, M.D.

Independent Health’s President and CEO, Michael W. Cropp, M.D., reflects on the legacy of the late Frank Colantuono, co-founder and former president of Independent Health.

"Frank Colantuono was a true pioneer who helped blaze a trail for Independent Health to become a leader and innovator in the health care industry, as well as a mentor and friend to many of us who shared the privilege of working with him. As one of the company's founders and long-time president and CEO, Frank set the standard on which Independent Health has built its reputation for quality, value, dedicated employees and world class service. His leadership and visionary skills grew the company from an implementation plan to an organization serving nearly 400,000 members. Family, friends and colleagues were all touched by Frank's integrity, service, purpose, empathy, compassion and vision. He genuinely cared for all of our members and employees, and always put the organization's purpose and mission first and foremost."

"Frank's commitment made a lasting impact not only on Independent Health, but on the health and well-being of our entire community. He gave abundant time and resources to support many community organizations over the years, including local theatre and arts groups, the United Way, Buffalo Alliance for Education, Buffalo Niagara Partnership, the Buffalo Yacht Club and Junior Achievement. Frank will be well remembered through all of his incredible contributions to the Western New York community."

Biography of Frank J. Colantuono

Frank Colantuono's journey to the position of president and chief executive officer of one of the leading health solutions companies in Western New York began with the pursuit of an MBA in health systems management at the University at Buffalo.

While pursuing that degree, he helped research the feasibility of creating a health maintenance organization (HMO) serving Amherst's Audubon community. When the study determined that the entire Western New York community could benefit from an HMO, he helped develop federal grant proposals that led to the development of Western New York Group Health Plan, Inc., which later became Independent Health.

After graduation from the University at Buffalo, Colantuono started with Western New York Group Health Plan as a staff assistant and advanced to executive assistant and assistant director. In 1979, when the company was renamed Independent Health, Colantuono became vice president, finance and planning, and gained responsibility for financial policy and revenue management, controlling expenditures and managing payroll and benefit administration.

Colantuono became president and chief executive officer of Independent Health in 1984, and was responsible for overall plan operation, including administration, finance and planning, operations, marketing and new ventures. He was also responsible for the operational activities of the Individual Practice Association of Western New York, the group of physicians with which Independent Health contracted to provide health care services for its members.

During his tenure, Colantuono helped the company grow from an implementation plan for an HMO to an organization that now provides health benefits and services to more than 400,000 members in Western New York and throughout the U.S. The company's comprehensive portfolio of progressive products now includes HMO, POS, PPO and EPO products, Medicare and Medicaid plans, traditional indemnity insurance, individual and small group Exchange products, consumer-directed plans and health savings accounts, plus coverage for self-funded employers.

Colantuono's visionary skills were clearly evident back in 1990 when Independent Health began offering self-funded health benefits to area employers. Relatively unknown at the time, self-funding continues to be a growing trend in health coverage. To reinforce its position as the dominant provider locally of self-funded services, Independent Health acquired NOVA Healthcare Administrators, a third-party administrator (TPA) of self-funded employee health benefits, in 2003.

Development and growth of innovative products and services were commonplace and continuous at Independent Health under Colantuono’s leadership. This included:

  • Introducing a Medicaid product, MediSource, in 1991.
  • Launching a point-of-service product, Encompass Plus, in 1995.
  • Establishing a Medicare product, Encompass 65, in 1996.
  • Introducing a PPO product, Passport, in 2002.
  • Launching FlexFit, one of the first products to offer members options based on their lifestyle needs, in 2003.
  • And on January 1, 2004, Independent Health introduced a traditional indemnity product.

Under Colantuono's leadership, Independent Health also implemented groundbreaking and effective programs to forge stronger partnerships with physicians, for example:

  • In 2000, Independent Health was the first HMO in the nation to sponsor physicians in the Idealized Design of Clinical Office Practice (IDCOP) program, which started with two practices and grew to 50. This effort evolved into a more comprehensive program, The Primary Connection, in 2012. The initiative connects a strong, collaborative group of primary care physician practices with specialists and other health care providers to spearhead efforts to transform the health care delivery system to improve care coordination, access and availability.
  • In 1999, Independent Health became one of the first HMOs in the country to begin paying bonuses to its physicians based on quality care standards when it started its Quality Management Initiative Awards (QMIA) program. This served as the foundation for Independent Health to develop several alternative reimbursement models that reward physicians for quality outcomes rather than fee-for-service.

Colantuono's commitment to quality, customer satisfaction and improving the health and well-being of the community were apparent throughout his tenure as president and CEO. In 1989, Independent Health established Feeling Fit, a program that provided health, wellness and educational programs to area businesses and its employees. And to further extend important wellness programs to the entire community, Independent Health created its Independent Health Foundation in 1992.

Focusing on quality, a long-standing hallmark of Independent Health, the company earned full accreditation from the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) in 1997. Two years later, in 1999, Independent Health earned NCQA's "excellent" accreditation status, the highest award given to health plans. Independent Health has maintained its "excellent" status through NCQA for its Commercial HMO/POS and Medicare lines of business.

It was quite a climb for the Pennsylvania native and graduate of Gannon College who worked in sales for General Nutrition Centers and Ross Laboratories prior to attending the University at Buffalo.

Colantuono attributed much of his professional success to his ability to work well with people. He always said growing up in a family of 11 children helped him develop values and social skills that enabled him to be tolerant and nonjudgmental. He also cited the quality of people with whom he worked as a reason for his success and that of the company. He strongly believed Independent Health's associates are the company's greatest asset. One of the mottos that he and his staff adhered to daily was "nothing happens at Independent Health unless the people here make it happen."

In addition to his professional achievements, Colantuono played an important role in the Western New York community for more than 35 years. As president of Independent Health, Colantuono supported numerous local theatre and art groups, the United Way and many other human service organizations. He donated abundant time and resources to a variety of activities, including the United Way, the Buffalo Alliance for Education, Buffalo Niagara Partnership, the Buffalo Yacht Club and Junior Achievement. Following his retirement, Colantuono remained active in the community, continuing to serve on the Independent Health Board of Directors for the past 10 years, as well as the board of Merchants Group Inc., an affiliate of Merchants Mutual Insurance Co. in Buffalo.

In 2000, Colantuono was named co-executive of the year with Independent Health Executive Vice President Bill McHugh by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), Buffalo/Niagara Chapter. In 1994, Colantuono was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award by the University at Buffalo for his outstanding contributions to the Western New York community.

Beyond his professional contributions, Frank was a dedicated, loving father to his son, Jim. Frank loved life and had various hobbies and interests, including sailing, cooking, hockey, and his motorcycle.

Colantuono's vision, leadership and commitment made a lasting impact not only on Independent Health, but on the health and well-being of the entire community.