Michael Polen, executive vice president, Medicare and Operations, WellCare Health Plans, Inc.
Since joining WellCare in 2005 as director of business planning and analytics, Polen, 38, has taken on roles of increasing responsibility. Today he serves as WellCare’s executive vice president of Medicare and operations. Under his leadership, the company has transformed its Medicare program through membership growth and market expansion. He has also led enterprise-wide improvements in quality, operations, provider networks, and customer experience.
MHE: Why did you choose your profession?
Polen: When I began my career, I wanted to do something that was interesting, challenging, and allowed me to do some good in the world. This led me to healthcare—a dynamic industry where things are always changing. Rising costs and an aging baby boomer population are putting unprecedented demands on our current system. I wanted to help provide solutions so that today’s seniors would have quality, cost-effective healthcare as they age.
MHE: What has been your biggest learning experience?
Polen: Managed care is a highly regulated industry. We work closely with government partners to meet strict care delivery metrics and guidelines to ensure we’re providing access to the highest quality, most cost-effective healthcare for our members. This can be a challenge, but it has taught me to be open to change, to be nimble during adversity, to find new ways to solve problems, and to offer innovative solutions.
MHE: What change would you like to see in healthcare in the next 10 years?
Polen: I’d like to find a way to offer consumers greater transparency. When people have access to information about the cost and quality of their healthcare, they can make more informed decisions. When buying electronics, for example, there are dozens of ways to research and comparison shop for the best new models. But when we visit doctors or fill prescriptions—perhaps the most important purchases we make for ourselves and our families—we often don’t have the information we need to make the most informed decision. I predict the demand for more transparency will only grow, and providers, hospitals, payers, and other healthcare stakeholders will need to work together to provide that information for patients.
MHE: If you could sit down to dinner with anyone involved in healthcare, who would it be?
Polen: I’d like to sit down with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to hear more about his vision for healthcare. Amazon is known for disrupting major industries, and now with JP Morgan and Berkshire Hathaway, the company announced it will form its own independent company to offer health insurance to its employees. The healthcare industry needs to be more innovative; there are plenty of ideas but not enough actual game changers. I’d like to see more industry leaders engage industry outsiders to further develop disruptive ideas aimed at addressing the age-old issues of healthcare costs, access, and outcome transparency.