Wherever the US health care system is headed, EY alumna and President of Aetna Karen Lynch is sure to be on the front lines.
Wherever the US health care system is headed, Jacques Mulder and EY alumni Karen Lynch and David Duckworth are sure to be on the front lines. As EY’s US Health Leader, Jacques is intent on helping clients strategically address the transformative forces shaping the health ecosystem. Karen is President of Aetna, a Fortune 50 diversified health care benefits company with an estimated 46.7 million members. And as CFO of Acadia Healthcare, David is part of a leadership team that operates a network of nearly 600 behavioral health care facilities across the US, the UK and Puerto Rico.
With health care undergoing a massive transformation, we sat down for one-on-one conversations with Jacques, Karen and David to learn their perspectives on the changes ahead and what disrupters are most likely to drive a bright future for patients, providers, insurers and other industry players. All three share a vision of creating a patient-centric health care environment through innovation.
With health care undergoing a massive transformation, we sat down for a one-on-one conversation with Karen Lynch to learn her perspective on the changes ahead and what disrupters are most likely to drive a bright future for patients, providers, insurers and other industry players. Karen is President of Aetna, a Fortune 50 diversified health care benefits company with an estimated 46.7 million members.
“Health is not an appointment to be scheduled, it’s a lifetime experience,” says EY alumna Karen Lynch. As President of Aetna, Karen is a key architect of Aetna’s strategy to drive consumer-focused, high-value health care. “At Aetna,” she says, “we’re working to address the full spectrum of physical, social, environmental and behavioral factors that drive someone’s health and ultimately impact their longevity and quality of life.”
The company aims to build a healthier world, one person and one community at a time. For four consecutive years, Aetna has been recognized as one of America’s most community-minded companies by Points of Light, through its annual Civic 50 initiative honoring companies that help improve the communities where they do business.
What do you see as the major factors compelling changes in the US health care system?
The most disruptive force will be consumers themselves. With the advent of digital tools and user-friendly online purchasing platforms, consumers anticipate the same positive experience when interacting with the health care system — quick access to information and personalized service.
Transparency of cost and quality are also going to be critical to the ongoing success of our health care system. In fact, these issues are reshaping the way providers think about service delivery.
Your ZIP code is a better indicator of health than your genetic code. Aetna can play a key role in health care reform by focusing on all of the factors that impact a member’s health care journey, including social determinants of health.
Finally, there is such a strong linkage between mental health and physical health. The two are so closely interrelated that they can’t be addressed separately. For example, we know that:
- Patients with type II diabetes are twice as likely to experience depression as the general population, and those patients with diabetes who are depressed have greater difficulty with self-care.
- Patients suffering from mental illness are twice as likely to smoke cigarettes as other people, leading to a variety of health problems.
- Up to 50% of cancer patients suffer from a mental illness, especially depression and anxiety, and treating symptoms of depression in cancer patients may improve survival time.
- In patients who are depressed, the risk of having a heart attack is more than twice as high as in the general population. Depression increases the risk of death in patients with cardiac disease.
I think it’s pretty clear that not paying attention to mental health is an incomplete health care strategy.
In light of these trends, what strategies has Aetna adopted to help shape the future of health care?
At Aetna, we understand that health care needs to be very local and very personalized. So we are investing heavily in technology and digital tools, which enable us to personalize experiences at the consumer level and to provide greater transparency for consumers as they make choices about their health care.
We are also addressing social determinants of health to prevent chronic illnesses and premature death — things like diet, exercise, sleep, social support, stress and mental illness — and finding ways to deliver the care and support at home to help keep people healthy and out of the doctor’s office and hospital.
What are you seeing in terms of the competitive landscape in this sector?
The competitors we’re most interested in are not necessarily the traditional insurance companies. There’s an arms race to get the technology and leverage the data, and that’s why Aetna is spending millions of dollars on getting it right. We have to stay ahead of those disruptive competitors or, potentially, partner with them.
What are your feelings about the overall future of health care in the US?
I continue to be optimistic about the state of health care. We have a big opportunity as a nation to improve transparency, improve affordability and drive consumer-centricity. This will, in return, increase the number of healthy days of our members — meaningfully increase wellness and productivity, proactively engage those in need of acute and chronic care, and provide holistic care in the home and local community.
Stakeholders have one common goal, and that’s to improve the overall health of the individuals we serve. Providers, Congress, employers and individuals all understand that the cost of health care is trending too high, and we have an opportunity to change that. With data analytics and digital tools, we can give people access to health care information at the right time and place, which will drive that transparency and affordability. I’m really excited about where health care can go over the next 5 to 10 years.
Tell us about your work experience at EY and how it helped prepare you for your future career.
I joined EY in my first professional position after college. One important lesson I learned was how to be an effective communicator with people at all levels of an organization. I also learned to take on opportunities as they emerge. [Current Ernst & Young LLP partner] Chris Scudellari, with whom I worked in the Boston office, taught me how to try new things and not be afraid. At EY, you go from client to client, so you have to learn how to get comfortable very quickly in unfamiliar situations.
To be an effective senior executive you need to show flexibility, and EY taught me that as well. Another lesson was making sure that I understood my craft and the technical nature of my job. Knowledge gives you credibility in your field, which opens doors to more opportunities. Chris and [retired partner] Howard Carver taught me the importance of sponsorship — investing in people for their career development. Since then, it’s become part of the fabric of my leadership style.
What activities are you involved in outside of work?
I sit on the board of US Bancorp and am involved with several charities that do important work. One is New Alternatives for Children (NAC), which supports adoption services for children with health issues. I also support my husband’s foundation, the Quell Foundation, whose mission is to eradicate the stigma of mental health and raise funds for college scholarships for kids who have behavioral health diagnoses or are going into behavioral health professions.
I am also an avid runner and recently took up spinning. My philosophy is: if I’m going to run a health care company, I’m going to stay healthy because I have to practice what I preach.
More about Karen Lynch
- President of Aetna since January 2015, the first woman to serve in the role in the company’s 164-year history
- Named to Modern Healthcare’s Top 25 Women in Healthcare list in 2017
- On Fortune's 2016 list of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business
- Director, US Bancorp
- Began her career in 1984 in EY’s Boston office and is a former member of the Boston Alumni Council