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​A view from the front row of the healthcare revolution

Learn how Karen Ignagni’s view of the future of healthcare innovation and healthcare IT is rooted in a understanding of the past—the industry’s and her own.

Karen Ignagni, President and Chief Executive Officer of America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP)

What’s the most significant issue facing the health industry right now?

Globally, and from a US perspective, the central issue is affordability. It touches every stakeholder—consumers thinking about which health plan to choose, pharmaceutical companies pricing drugs, hospitals negotiating payment rates with health plans, and doctors making healthcare decisions.

As we transition from a wholesale to a retail market in healthcare, consumer perspectives on value will influence behavior, as they do in every other sector. During health reform, much of the discussion focused on health insurance premiums. Now, attention needs to be squarely focused on addressing the country's medical cost problem. More needs to be done to bring down the underlying cost of health care so individuals and families have access to affordable health care.

The smallest innovations are often the most important, but the hardest to identify. Where do you sense there are particularly innovative movements underway?

I see innovation in a number of key areas.

Telehealth is making it increasingly possible for people to have access to the best medical care irrespective of their location. As a result, how we interact with the health care system is completely reimagined. I think we will see rapid development of alternatives in care delivery that redefine the concept of "center of excellence."

Social media and new innovations in mobile apps are also driving this evolution. These changes are transforming the way that the health plan community communicates with patients, and more importantly -- empowering consumers in their health choices.

We are also seeing innovations in the use of "big data," which continues to build on the work that health plans are doing to address health disparities and design personalized treatment programs for patients managing chronic conditions.

"These changes are transforming the way that the health plan community communicates with patients, and more importantly - empowering consumers in their health choices."

As we look at how we can improve the value and quality of care, patients and their doctors will be relying on comparative effectiveness research to determine the best device, drug or therapy for individual patients and their health needs.

You've been on the frontlines of the most significant policy debates to shape the industry. What stands out as defining moments in the evolution of healthcare in America?

The Affordable Care Act was a milestone, providing an access to coverage for millions of people who previously had been out of the insurance marketplace.

The implementation of Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D were also groundbreaking. These programs expanded private sector options for Medicare beneficiaries and provided the framework for successful public-private partnerships. Today, millions of seniors rely on these programs, and the research speaks for itself -- Medicare Advantage and Part D have made it possible for seniors to get the care and treatment they need to improve their health.

Healthcare is a major factor in your life—professionally, but also personally as a patient and a consumer. What are the intersections between the personal and professional?

As you work on a healthcare policy, you always have to think about how people are making healthcare decisions and the stakes for them. These decisions are personal—made at the kitchen table, often at a time when people are concerned, frustrated, scared and in need of help. It's critical to keep that in mind.

What excites you most about the job you do?

When I wake up, I think how lucky I am to be in this role. I love the intellectual challenge of the breadth and depth of issues. Having the ability to reach out to the best people in the country who are on the front lines of healthcare operations, improves one’s understanding of potential policy solutions.

I’m excited to have the opportunity to give voice to innovations that are happening in our industry.

What is the best advice you have ever received?

I am lucky enough to have had a wonderful mentor in former Secretary of Labor John Dunlop. Early in my career, he taught me that learning to listen is a critical skill and that the best negotiators are the best listeners. He also advised learning to walk in other people’s shoes. If you make an argument, you must anticipate how the person on the other side of the table will hear it. Not only does it make you consider all perspectives and sides, but it's a reminder to come to the table and be prepared to listen and engage in a productive way.

Who are your personal heroes and what influence have they had on you?

Definitely my mom and dad.

My dad held three jobs—firefighter, grocery clerk and housepainter. Just by watching how he struggled to support our family, I learned firsthand about having a strong work ethic. I am so grateful for that.

My mom was physically disabled by polio, and lived a lifetime in physical pain. Her ability to cope in such an elegant and gracious way—while raising two children—was remarkable.

My challenges don’t come close to my parents’. Yet understanding what they went through has given me a compass for my own life. I have been very lucky, and I attribute so much of that to my parents and to the strong values and foundation they gave me.

To learn more about some of the key innovations that Karen discussed, read:

Five Technology Trends are Fueling Digital Disruption in Healthcare—Infographic

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