Erin Barney discusses her new role and how it supports market and enterprise imperatives.
In April 2022, Erin Barney was named VP of Network Solutions for the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA). Barney assumed the role after 17 years of leading multiple divisions for BCBSA licensee Health Care Services Corporation (HCSC), which is also the fourth-largest insurer in the U.S.
Barney recently spoke with HealthLeaders about her new position, what drew her to it, and her unique approach.
HealthLeaders: Describe the role Network Solutions plays at BCBSA.
Barney: The role Network Solutions plays is to convene network executives across the different Blue Cross Blue Shield plans — to focus on how we come together as a system and work across geographies, each of which has its own unique economy, provider makeup, and population, to deliver and maintain creative and innovative networks that meet members' needs. I'm spending time reaching out to each executive, asking them about their own priorities and initiatives, and how they are working on common priorities like value-based care (VBC).
HL: How do you balance unique and shared challenges?
Barney: First, we need understand what the needs are and where can we align on purpose and focus. For example, how to advance VBC through quality and how to help providers to drive outcomes-based reimbursement.
These priorities tie back to what we're trying to accomplish as system, our three pillars: Integrated, affordable healthcare; healthier lives for our members and local communities; and a convenient, seamless experience for members.
HL: What are some specific areas Network Solutions is addressing?
Barney: One is behavioral health. There is a lot of discussion on unprecedented demand and need. At the micro level, the Network Solutions team is having one-on-one conversations with the individual network plan executives. Then, we're looking across the system: If there is a supply challenge, why and how do we address it, including access through virtual care. Or maybe quality of data is an issue.
Another is maternity. There are many things to consider: How do providers help support, engage, and understand patient needs; how effective is the discussion; and are patients being heard?
We're also looking at how Network Solutions can help extend relationships with health equity being a focus. In maternity, for example, the team started asking questions in the BDC [Blue Distinction Center] survey on how race, ethnicity, and language data is collected, incorporated, and applied. The responses help understand the landscape, refine our approach, then require select measures.
Note: BCBSA BDC "are healthcare facilities and providers recognized for their expertise in delivering specialty care."
HL: Can you speak more about the role Network Solutions plays related to metrics?
Barney: One example is the Severe Maternal Morbidity measure. It might not be used for health equity, but could it be? Is there something there? Also with SOGI (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity), there is new insight and opportunity.
With clinicians, we're looking at what are appropriate metrics, including cross-industry collaboration, and how operations and analytics relate. With measures, you have to be thoughtful because of the implications and ensure validity.
HL: What are some unique aspects of BCBSA's Network Solution org structure and objectives?
Barney: We are able to tap into a bunch of different areas across the organization. I have a team under me that includes clinicians. There is also an Office of Clinical Affairs run by the CMO that Network Solutions works with. There are also groups within the distinct plans that focus on quality separate from what the network executives are doing.
HL: What makes you the right leader for this role?
Barney: I had been with HCSC for 17 years in a variety of roles and have taken a different path than most take. I've been in leadership within local plans but also enterprise roles in sales and account management. In my early career, I was an HR leader; everyone should understand the people side. I've operated in strategic, finance, ops, and reimbursement functions.
I'm just naturally curious. To understand the whole, you have to also understand the pieces. I have an understanding and appreciation of what it takes to make it all work.
HL: What drew you to this role?
Barney: The uniqueness of our Network Solutions work is that equity is a priority. This focus and BCBSA's CEO Kim Keck are part of the reason I wanted to move into this new role.
My personal philosophy aligns with the overall Blues mission of committing to local communities. The Blues plans were born out of a need to serve people who couldn't afford healthcare in the 1920s. I really think about how we serve our neighbors, family, friends, people we meet in the grocery store or post office. It's an honor to work for this company.
“To understand the whole, you have to also understand the pieces. I have an understanding and appreciation of what it takes to make it all work.”
Erin Barney, VP of Network Solutions, Blue Cross Blue Shield Association
Laura Beerman is a contributing writer for HealthLeaders.
In April 2022, Erin Barney became the new VP of Network Solutions for the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.
Barney's healthcare career spans leadership roles in sales, account, and human resource management, as well as strategic, finance, operations, and reimbursement functions.
Her expertise will help BCBSA balance individual network needs with enterprise goals in such areas as behavioral health, maternal health, and health equity.