There was a time when Ceci Connolly was reporting for The Washington Post, covering national news and breaking stories on politics, natural disasters, and issues that impacted the healthcare landscape. She also contributed to Landmark: America’s New Health-Care Law and What It Means for Us All, a book penned by Post staff writers.
“I was a political journalist for much of my career and covered presidential and gubernatorial campaigns and Congress, and it was after the 2000 campaign that I was fried from 18 months on the road,” Connolly says. “I was incredibly fortunate to go to the Harvard Kennedy School and met a lot of smart, neat people in healthcare and got excited about it, and caught the healthcare bug.”
After 25 years as a journalist, Connolly traded in her pencil and notebook to work as a senior adviser at the McKinsey Center for Health System Reform, then went on to become managing director at international consulting firm PwC’s Health Research Institute.
“In late 2010, the journalism world was not in great shape, and I had a really great 25-year run and loved every minute but knew if I was going to do something different, this was probably the time,” she says. “I had this opportunity to go to McKinsey and help them ramp up their Center for Health Reform, and it’s been an interesting and fun second career.”
In 2016, she was named president and CEO of the Alliance of Community Health Plans (ACHP), the trade association for high-quality, nonprofit, community health plans, working with some of the most innovative executives in the health sector to provide evidence-based, affordable care.
“What attracted me to it was after my years of writing about healthcare and getting exposed to every facet of the healthcare sector, I came to believe very strongly in the model captured by our members and what we represent—the integrated payer/provider partnership,” Connolly says. “Especially nonprofits in the community. I feel that the data is pretty compelling that integrated or a partnership model gets us to a much better set of incentives around doing what’s right for the patient and doing it in an efficient, high-quality manner.”
To have a day job that tracks with what she believes in is truly a gift, she says.
On the job
ACHP focuses on three core intersecting activities: advocacy at the federal level in Washington, D.C.; clinical innovation where research is tied to its unique model, as well as shared learning, providing opportunities for high-caliber member companies to come together and share innovative strategies and best practices; and market competitiveness.
“That is a group that does a lot of data analytics and benchmarking for our members, to look at quality performance, for instance, or pharmacy spending among the membership and help them stay competitive in the market,” Connolly says. “I make certain that those three are harmonized and that the whole is greater than the parts. All of these intersect because any one category helps strengthen and fuel the other activities.”
Connolly’s responsibilities also include spending a great deal of time with members, getting out of D.C., and interacting with what she considers “the cream of the crop” in the health industry to hear about what’s exciting and new in their world.
“I do spend a good amount of time with them—they cover 34 states and the District of Columbia,” she says. “A little of it is also proselytizing, whether it’s talking to reporters or making visits to Capitol Hill, it’s about communicating what we consider to be a much better vision for the future of healthcare.”
When it comes to clinical innovation, ACHP is very deep into work around social determinants of health and how nonprofit community health plans can approach that issue.
“It’s not that it’s a new issue for most of our members, but with all of the renewed interest, we have a policy initiative to build out a policy agenda,” Connolly says. “There are a lot of questions in society about rules and responsibilities around social determinants of health, and I don’t think we want health plans to take over housing, but we can certainly be hubs and supporters in communities and forge partnerships and connect people in need with services.”
A good deal of that takes place in ACHP’s clinical innovation department.
The organization also has a very active pharmacy director group and Connolly notes they are constantly grappling with rising drug costs and how to manage that.
“They are also seeing headed in their direction, all of these potential therapies that have high price tags and thinking through how they are going to navigate that,” she says. “I have an incredible team and I love being surrounded by smart, passionate people who are very committed.”