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Q&A with WellPoint's Next CEO, Joe Swedish

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, February 15, 2013

Trinity Health CEO Joseph R. Swedish this week was named the new CEO of WellPoint Inc., effective March 25. Though Swedish is well known and highly regarded in the hospital sector, a number of health insurance industry analysts reacted with surprise upon hearing the news. Many acknowledged they'd never heard of the executive from Livonia, MI, who will soon lead the nation's second-largest health insurance company.

Swedish spoke with HealthLeaders Media this week about the challenges of the new job. Below is an edited transcript of the conversation. 

HLM: Why did WellPoint pick a hospital executive instead of someone with a more extensive health insurance background?

JS:
My sense is that the board, looking at the landscape of the entire industry, came to the conclusion that we are all—and by all I mean providers and payers—exposed to a transformational era that necessitates different kinds of strategic choices, different dialogs occurring in the industry.

Joseph Swedish


The payers and providers are going to have to lead the way regarding the health reform agenda. This transformational era specifically relates to what I call this "New Age of Consumerism" that necessitates that we align what the consumers want with access and cost reduction and care that is safer and higher quality. We are going to have to give them the technologies that are necessary to gain that kind of access.

Another area that is critically important is that both providers and payers are now aligning networks. In many cases they are narrow networks that really focus on meeting the agendas of better performance at lower costs. Then you look at the structural changes in healthcare specific to the advancement of exchanges and the new relationships that will be created between provider and payer and that speaks to the dialog being tremendously different, what I call the new story versus old story.

The contractual relationships are going to point right at more risk-taking on the part of providers or more engagement by the payers in terms of supporting these new models. The expectation of what I can bring is a different dialog based on my knowledge in the provider sector. Hopefully I can promote the kind of transformation that is necessary to better align those two interests.

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