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N.D. Blue Cross Blue Shield fires top executive in wake of incentive trip controversy

FARGO - The top official of Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota has been fired on the heels of an incentive trip for employees in the Grand Cayman Islands last week.

According to a news release issued shortly after 10 this morning, the BCBS board voted Monday to replace President and Chief Executive Officer Mike Unhjem.

In addition, the board named Tim Huckle, executive vice president of health operations, to serve as interim president and CEO.

The news release said board members have addressed a number of leadership challenges over the past couple of years and decided to chart a new direction for the company by making the leadership change.

"This was a difficult decision to make, but on behalf of our members, providers and employees, the change was necessary in order to move forward," said Dennis Elbert, board chairman, in the news release. "We recognize that we must rebuild public trust and believe this decision was a necessary first step in that process."

BCBS said Unhjem asked that the company release the following statement on his behalf: "I have been privileged to have worked for the best company in North Dakota for nearly 23 years, and to have worked with some of the best people on the face of the earth. Working together, we accomplished many great things, and I am proud of our collective successes and the positive impact we have had on the healthcare system in North Dakota. I wish the company and my former co-workers nothing but the best as the future unfolds."

BCBS is directed by a board of 13 men and women who represent business, government, health care and education. Directors serve three-year terms, up to a maximum of four terms. The current composition of the board is eight consumer directors and five provider directors. Directors are elected by a majority vote of BCBS members at the company's annual meeting.

Huckle has been with BCBS for 23 years.

BCBS serves 53 percent of the state's population and is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.

Check back to for more details and read the full story in The Forum on Wednesday.