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HHS Hires Former Anthem Exec to Address Health Insurance Costs

News  |  By Steven Porter  
   April 18, 2018

In some ways, his shift from the private sector to the government resembles that of the HHS secretary, who overcame criticism to secure Senate confirmation earlier this year.

A former member of Anthem's leadership team has been hired by Health and Human Services to help the federal government transform the health insurance industry.

James "Jim" Parker, MBA, who worked more than two decades for Anthem, has been hired to address both the cost and availability of health plans, HHS Secretary Alex Azar said Wednesday in a written announcement naming Parker director of the HHS Office of Health Reform.

Azar—who was hospitalized Wednesday for the second time this week—said Parker's work for the government will be helped by his private-sector experience, which sought to provide Americans with access to insurance that was both high-quality and affordable.

"His knowledge and expertise will be vital to our work at HHS to ensure that Americans have access to insurance that meets their needs," Azar said.

In some ways, Parker's shift from a private-sector health plan to a government agency pushing for health plan reform resembles Azar's shift from the helm of Eli Lilly & Co.'s U.S. operations to the head of the federal government department overseeing healthcare.

Azar's critics worried that his background would make him too cozy with drug companies, but the Senate ultimately confirmed him with a 55-43 vote in January. Parker's position does not require Senate confirmation.

Parker's profile on LinkedIn says he worked for Anthem from 1995 through 2004, serving more than four years as president of Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maine.

Parker then worked about five years for WellPoint after it was acquired by Anthem, serving as president of federal employee benefits, then president of federal government solutions, then chief of staff to President and CEO Angela Braly.

Parker spent more than three years as an independent healthcare consultant before landing his job as president and CEO of provider-sponsored IU Health Plans in 2012. Last year, he was named president and CEO of MDwise, an Indianapolis-based Medicaid managed care organization.

In announcing Parker's hiring, HHS noted that MDwise has more than 300,000 members and $1.4 billion in revenue.

Hoosier ties & strategy

By picking Parker, federal healthcare policymakers also deepened their ties to Indiana, where Vice President Mike Pence served as governor until after President Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election.

Azar and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seems Verma both hail from the Hoosier state as well, as do a number of the staff members on their teams.

But the reason why Parker was picked, Azar said, was because he will support one of the four prongs in Azar's transformation agenda: to combat the opioid crisis, reduce prescription drug costs, address health insurance cost and availability, and transform healthcare delivery into a value-based system.

Two more prongs will be advanced by two other recently announced hires, Azar noted: Daniel M. Best as senior advisor to the secretary for drug pricing reform and Brett P. Giroir, MD, as senior advisor to the secretary for mental health and opioid policy (on top of his responsibilities as assistant secretary for health).

Steven Porter is an associate content manager and Strategy editor for HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.

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