Aetna Chief on Affordable Care Act: Catalyst for Needed Change

A recent Wall Street Journal “Boss Talk” column features a very interesting interview with Mark T. Bertolini, CEO of the health insurance giant Aetna.

When the article appeared—and as this is being written—we’re waiting to hear how the Supreme Court will rule on “ObamaCare,” and speculation on the impact of that decision is intense.  Whether you’re for or against the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or just confused, it’s doubtful anyone thinks healthcare is as good as it could or should be.  Costs continue to rise, access can be difficult and too many mistakes and poor communication undermine the many very positive aspects of care across North America.  What’s more troubling to those of us who have worked with health care organizations to help them improve is that small successes rarely add up to significant, sustained change.

What’s encouraging about Bertolini’s perspective is that the impact of the Supreme Court ruling, no matter what is handed down, will not eliminate some of the key benefits of the law.  Speaking of Aetna, Bertolini comments:  “If the Affordable Care Act were to go away tomorrow, we still would be better off as an organization, because who can argue with getting a lower health-care delivery cost, more streamlined administrative structure, making yourself simpler and less complex to do business with?  If all that happened and then health-care reform went away, we would be better off and so would our customers.”

He goes on to explain that the effort to fill in the details of the ACA, and the interaction that’s occurring between insurers, providers and the government, is prompting a healthy review and ideally paving the way to a better relationship across the system.  Certainly in our work with our client CMS —the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services—we’re seeing an evolving attitude about change.  The prospect of the ACA’s implementation and the need to ensure it leads to meaningful changes in health care quality and costs, is prompting a wave of innovation and an examination of longstanding processes that (not surprisingly) can benefit from streamlining.

To hear these optimistic predictions from the head of what many might describe as one of the major “villians” in the health care drama way require a grain or two of salt.  But Bertolini not only seems sincere, he is also making the important point that the clear prospect or threat of change is what’s needed to get people or organizations motivated to really look at how to make things better.  It’s often called the “burning platform,” but maybe the ACA will prove to be a smoke-free driving of needed change in our health care system.  Whether you’re pro or con, that should be hopeful news.

About Pete Pande

Pete Pande, President of Pivotal Resources Inc., is a seasoned consultant in process improvement, organization change and Lean Six Sigma initiatives (he is one of the recognized "experts" in the field). He has provided senior executive training and deployment consulting services in business improvement and Six Sigma efforts for such companies as GE Capital, Sun Microsystems, Cendant, Cisco Systems, Starwood Hotels, Honeywell, Carlson Wagonlit Travel and many others. For more information, please visit
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