Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Candidate, Maura Bluestone

Her public health insurance company for low-income individuals, Affinity Health Plan, won her the regional award and now she's off to Palm Springs to compete for the national award.

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Maura Bluestone, founder of New York's Affinity Health Plan, an $800 million public health insurance non-profit for low-to-modest income individuals, is a top contender in the annual high-profile Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards Saturday night in Palm Springs, California. The country's selected regional winners will gather to find out who takes home the national honor of entrepreneur of the year. The candidates are entrepreneurs from around the nation with diverse backgrounds and stories to tell--from health care to finance to amusement parks.

"I must admit that I’ve had mixed feelings about the E&Y Entrepreneur award," Bluestone tells Fast Company. "I’m honored and flattered to have been nominated in the first place, then to have made it to the finals and then, to my amazement, to have won the Regional award. I also know full well, however, that 'my' accomplishments were the product of hard work by many, many people along with good timing and lots of luck! I am not entirely comfortable being singled out; on the other hand, I know this means a lot to my colleagues, family and friends who have encouraged and supported my endeavors over the years."

Affinity has a long history of innovation--in the early 1980s Bluestone pioneered the public-private partnership model in health care by partnering with legislators and managed care plans and to this day the non-profit remains independent of any institutional or other sponsorship/ownership. Her organization is also active in promoting public health policy. As a graduate of the Harvard School of Public Health, Bluestone had, from early on, a comprehensive sense of what was necessary to both make her organization financially sustainable and also serve her constituents as best as possible, through an understanding of government, health care, and the dynamics of poverty and low-income populations.

"We have always been, and remain, actively involved in development of public policy and testing of new approaches to engage members/patients and providers in more effective health care relationships," Bluestone says.

"I am proud to say that I was the only NY Regional Finalist from the health care industry, and the only from a not-for-profit company," she says.

But she is modest and expresses being nervous and excited and "amused by it all for sure."

Watch the live announcement of the winner this Saturday night at 8pm on E&Y's webcast from Palm Springs and read up on the other candidates here.

Follow me, Jenara Nerenberg, on Twitter.

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