Former Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana CEO Howard Reitz dies _lowres

Howard Reitz, past president and CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana

Howard Reitz, past president and CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana and father of the company’s current president, died Tuesday at the age of 96.

“My dad was president of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana during an amazing time for this company. He helped to build it from 50,000 members to nearly one million,” said president and CEO Mike Reitz, who started working for the company as a teenager during his father’s tenure and had nearly 35 years of experience when he was appointed president and CEO in 2009. “He was also a great man and a great dad,” Reitz said.

The elder Reitz was president of Cincinnati Blue Cross in Ohio from 1946 to 1953. During that time, Jeb Stuart, then president of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, asked Reitz to travel the country visiting and evaluating several other Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plans. Stuart sent Reitz to Louisiana to meet with Tom Bennett, then president of Blue Cross of Louisiana. They hit it off, and Bennett asked Reitz to head his marketing department.

Reitz, who had served as a pilot in the Korean War, was appointed president and CEO of the company when Bennett retired in 1967. In 1975, eight years into his 17-year stint as CEO, Blue Cross of Baton Rouge and Blue Cross of Greater New Orleans consolidated to form a statewide plan — Louisiana Health Service & Indemnity Co., doing business as Blue Cross of Louisiana. The merger more than doubled the company’s business and brought it national accounts. On Jan. 1, 1985, the company began doing business as Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana to reflect the fact that both hospital and physician coverage were provided by one plan.

As a consolidated statewide organization, Blue Cross outgrew its small building on Florida Street, where it had made its home in Baton Rouge since 1968. In 1978, Blue Cross purchased 102 acres near Bluebonnet Boulevard and Interstate 10. The company’s new headquarters was completed in 1987, but Reitz had retired as president and CEO in 1983. The project was completed under his successor, P.J. Mills.

When interviewed in 2009 for the company’s 75th anniversary newsletter, Reitz maintained that there was nothing more noteworthy about his time leading Blue Cross than his workforce. “The employees were excellent, excellent. Just wonderful people,” he said.

A native of New Castle, Pennsylvania, Reitz is survived by his wife Gladys; their five children and spouses, Mike and Fay Reitz, Cathy and Ross Stephens, Cynthia and Jon Strohmeyer, Carolyn and Harry Bruder and Ms. Chris Powers; nine grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.