Our Story

Beginning in the 1930s, nonprofit Blue Cross voluntary pre-paid hospital plans were created across the U.S. to provide affordable healthcare coverage to millions of Americans. Wisconsin Blue Cross was chartered in 1939 as a “charitable and benevolent corporation” to cover hospitalization costs, later adding coverage for physician services and growing to become the state’s largest health insurer as Blue Cross & Blue Shield United of Wisconsin in the decades that followed. In 1994, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association voted to allow its nonprofit members to become for-profit corporations. Blue Cross & Blue Shield plans interested in converting to for-profit entities would have to divest their assets.

In Wisconsin, Blue Cross & Blue Shield United’s transformation, precipitated by the planned retirement of its CEO, resulted in a $618 million gift made in 1999 to the people of Wisconsin, split evenly between the state’s two medical schools—the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and the Medical College of Wisconsin. 

Learn more about AHW’s history and impact in Wisconsin—from the time we made our first grant awards in 2004 to our rise to become Wisconsin’s largest health philanthropy.

Our 20 Year History

Timeline of Events


June 3, 1999

Blue Cross & Blue Shield United of Wisconsin announces that it will be converting from a non-profit organization to a proprietary firm. The company announces that as part of the conversion process, it will donate the company’s assets equally between the Medical College of Wisconsin and the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine. The donated funds are to be used to improve the quality of health for the citizens of Wisconsin.

July 6, 1999

MCW and UW-Madison School of Medicine host the first of nine statewide listening sessions to gather public input on Wisconsin’s health needs. The first sessions are held in Stevens Point and De Pere. Information gathered will be evaluated for inclusion in the medical schools’ plans for use of the Blue Cross & Blue Shield United of Wisconsin endowment. The endowment is valued at $125 million.

September 29, 1999
The Board of Directors of Blue Cross & Blue Shield United of Wisconsin accept the joint amended plan submitted by MCW and the University of Wisconsin Medical School which details how the two medicals propose to conversion funds created through Blue Cross’s transformation into a for-profit entity: Advancing the Health of Wisconsin’s Population: Through Excellence in Medical Education, Research and Community Service
December 6, 1999
Blue Cross & Blue Shield United of Wisconsin names the Board of Directors for the Blue Cross & Blue Shield United of Wisconsin Public Health Foundation. The nine-member board will oversee the management of the foundation and assume legal responsibilities for its activities.


March 28, 2000
The Wisconsin Commissioner of Insurance approves the proposal from Blue Cross & Blue Shield United of Wisconsin to convert to a for-profit company and donate the company’s assets equally between the Medical College and UW School of Medicine. In issuing the Order establishing AHW, then Wisconsin Insurance Commissioner Connie L. O’Connell said, “With the requirements in my decision the public can be assured the full and complete value [of the Blue Cross & Blue Shield conversion] will be realized for the needs of the health of the public in Wisconsin."
August 24, 2000
Consumer groups in Wisconsin file a petition for judicial review in state court to challenge the Wisconsin Commissioner of Insurance’s decision to approve the Blue Cross & Blue Shield United of Wisconsin conversion plan. A trial judge hears the case and upholds the Commissioner’s decision.
December 20, 2000
The Wisconsin Coalition for Advocacy, ABC for Health, and Wisconsin AARP file an appeal with the Wisconsin Court of Appeals challenging a Dane County Circuit Court ruling that permits the transfer of assets from the conversion of Blue Cross & Blue Shield United of Wisconsin to the state’s two medical schools.


October 2001

Cheryl Maurana, PhD, is named MCW Senior Associate Dean for Public Community Health, becoming the founding director of the Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin Endowment. Dr. Maurana served as AHW director for twenty years, during which time AHW invested approximately $275 million in nearly 200 initiatives to improve health across Wisconsin.


February 13, 2001
The Wisconsin United for Health Foundation Board approves its amended and restated bylaws, filing articles of incorporation on February 14, 2001.
December 6, 2001
The Wisconsin Court of Appeals affirms the Wisconsin Commissioner of Insurance’s ruling on the Blue Cross & Blue Shield United of Wisconsin plan, thus upholding the trial judge’s decision.


January 8, 2002
Two Wisconsin public interest groups—ABC for Health, and the Wisconsin Coalition for Advocacy—filed a petition with the Wisconsin Supreme Court challenging a Wisconsin Court of Appeals ruling that permits the transfer of Blue Cross & Blue Shield United of Wisconsin funds to Wisconsin’s two medical schools.
August 16, 2002
Directors of the MCW Consortium on Public and Community Health appointed.


January 28, 2003

MCW Consortium on Public and Community Health, Inc., bylaws adopted.


April 2003
AHW produces its first Five-Year Plan outlining proposed use of available funding for community-based health improvement initiatives, health workforce education, and medical research.
December 22, 2003
AHW files an addendum to its Five-Year Plan to add information about funding allocations and how research and education initiatives will be evaluated. Funds management and supplanting criteria are also included in the addendum.


March 2004
The Blue Cross & Blue Shield United of Wisconsin conversion is completed. The proceeds from the company’s sale are distributed to both the Medical College of Wisconsin and the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine; both receive approximately $300 million to be used to improve the health of Wisconsin residents. Proceeds are used to create the Medical College’s “Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin” (AHW) program and strengthen the college’s mission of community engagement.
March 10, 2004
Grant agreement between Wisconsin United for Health Foundation, Inc. (WUHF) and the Medical College of Wisconsin takes effect. WUHF’s approval of AHW’s Five-Year Plans and annual reports would be required for MCW to receive the endowment’s financial installments.
April 23, 2004
AHW issues its first request for proposals for community-based projects fitting three key areas of emphasis: a health improvement model; a community-academic partnership model; and principles of stewardship.
November 14, 2004
AHW’s first request for community-based proposals generated 22 funded health-improvement projects representing a range of urban and rural communities receiving a total of $3.5 million.


June 30, 2005
AHW reports funding commitments of $8.8 million in its first year of operations, $4.8 million (54%) of which was directed specifically to public health projects.


July 21, 2006
MCW’s Board of Trustees approves the commitment of more than $7.5 million from the Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin endowment to expand and develop new PhD program in public health.


November 20, 2007
The Wisconsin Unified for Health Foundation lifts limits imposed on MCW’s ability to spend AHW Endowment income.


November 21, 2008
The Medical College of Wisconsin’s Board of Trustees approves AHW’s 2009-2013 Five-Year Plan, which includes initiatives aimed at violence prevention, a commitment to develop a community-friendly institutional review process, a greater emphasis on training faculty about community engagement and incentivizing their participation, and allowing flexibility to award funds in larger amounts for longer periods of time. Other enhancements include expanded Principles of Stewardship to reflect building academic and community strengths and new knowledge.


March 19, 2010
AHW announces a five-year, $8.2 million commitment to implement the Youth Violence Prevention Initiative.


October 25, 2013

The MCW Board of Trustees approves AHW’s 2014-2018 Five Year Plan entitled, Moving from Grantmaker to Changemaker. This innovative focus, which received national attention, leverages resources to build capacity, innovate and catalyze change for health improvement across Wisconsin. Changemaker roles include that of high-impact investor, learner, convener and influencer.



In its first 10 years of operations, AHW invested $185 million in more than 200 initiatives, forming partnerships with more than 1,000 MCW researchers and community organizations throughout Wisconsin.


June 2015
AHW invests $3 million to establish the MCW School of Pharmacy to address a growing shortage of pharmacists in Wisconsin and to reshape pharmacist training in the state to meet emerging and future patient needs.


June 2, 2016
AHW announces a commitment of more than $20 million over an eight-year period to support behavioral health initiatives by 10 community coalitions in Wisconsin. Fueled by the power of communities to build the networks, systems, and structures best suited to address the health challenges their residents face, the Advancing Behavioral Health Initiative set a new standard for large-scale mental and behavioral health improvement.
July 2016
AHW invests $369,060 to establish regional graduate medical education (GME) programs in Green Bay and Wausau to address a shortage of physicians in rural Wisconsin. Regional partners will collaboratively develop a strategic plan for overcoming barriers to creating and sustaining graduate medical education (GME) expansion in central and northern Wisconsin. In addition, stakeholders will aim to implement methods of linking undergraduate medical education and GME in order to implement successful GME expansion.


June 22, 2018
The MCW Board of Trustees approves AHW’s 2019-2023 Five-Year Plan entitled, Changemaking for a Healthier Wisconsin with an emphasis on catalytic philanthropy.
October 30, 2018
The Wisconsin United for Health Foundation is dissolved in accordance with its articles of incorporation and bylaws, with all liabilities and obligations of the foundation distributed to the University of Wisconsin Foundation and the Medical College of Wisconsin in equal shares.


February 2019

AHW makes a $1.6 million investment into reducing cancer disparities by supporting community and MCW academic partners in an innovative effort to identify strategies that cut across community, research, and education to impact how we understand and approach breast and lung cancers in Wisconsin.

May 8, 2019

Jesse M. Ehrenfeld, MD, MPH, is named Senior Associate Dean and Director of the Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin Endowment, effective September 1, 2019.



March 16, 2020
The Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin Endowment (AHW) announced the availability of up to $5 million in funding to support Wisconsin’s response to the new coronavirus.


August 15, 2021

Nationally recognized surgical oncologist and health disparities researcher Ugwuji Maduekwe, MD, MMSc, MPH, joins AHW as deputy director, later receiving the title of associate dean.



June 23, 2023
The MCW Board of Trustees approves AHW’s 2024-2028 Five-Year Plan, which renews the endowment’s commitment to public and community health improvement; health workforce and education development; and health-focused research while calling special attention to the importance of programs, partnerships, and knowledge-sharing opportunities aimed at achieving health equity for ALL Wisconsinites—from urban centers to rural and agricultural communities and self-governed tribal nations.
June 30, 2023
AHW total investment in projects devoted to improving health in Wisconsin reaches $338 million—more than the original $320 endowment directed to the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Reflections on 20 Years of Health Philanthropy

Historical Perspectives

MCW Leadership

AHW Leadership

Community Stakeholders

MCW Researchers