10 Emerging Industry Leaders: Britta Orr

October 21, 2020
Karen Appold
Karen Appold

Volume 30, Issue 10

Managed Healthcare Executive's October issue headlines 10 healthcare leaders in its fourth annual "10 Emerging Industry Leaders" feature. MHE spotlights each leader individually with a video interview to accompany the Q&A between MHE and the emerging leader.

Britta Orr, J.D., M.P.H., chief Medicare officer, Allina Health Aetna, Minneapolis

I grew up near Minneapolis and went to college at Northwestern University. After graduation, I pursued a dual degree in law and master’s of public health at the University of Minnesota, with a goal to combine my passions for healthcare and advocacy. I went on to work for various nonprofits focused on state and federal health policy. Today I am proud to be the chief Medicare officer for Allina Health Aetna, a unique joint venture health plan launched in Minnesota in 2018. Outside of work, I have chaired my city’s health commission and taken on board leadership in support of hospice fundraising.

Why did you choose your profession?

Both of my parents received life-changing diagnoses when I was in high school. I paid close attention as they gathered binders of medical information and spent hours on the phone, seeking coverage approvals. My parents were educated and employed and had a strong support network. I often thought about how hard it would be to navigate the clinical care and health insurance systems under different circumstances. I quickly grew very passionate about making healthcare as simple, affordable and personal as possible for as many people as possible.

What has been your biggest learning experience in the industry? What did it teach you?

Probably my current startup experience. Assembling a new team to support a new product in a new market reinforced the importance of knowing who you want to be as a business as much as what you want to deliver. Hiring to fit your values, e.g., empathy, is critical to everything that follows.

How has COVID-19 affected your responsibilities and how your organization operates? How might your job and your organization change because of the pandemic?

COVID-19 has invited Allina Health Aetna to take stock of our priorities at both the enterprise and individual levels. We leaned into supporting our members in innovative ways through liberalized benefits and information sharing, virtual tools to ensure safety, and proactive clinical outreach to those at risk. We quickly determined which communications and interactions were most critical in this overwhelming time and allowed others to fall off. We also doubled down on work-life balance for our teams, expanding how we support them as family caregivers and as people. And, whether directed at our members or employees, we are laser focused on supporting mental health and wellness. I don’t expect any of these changes to wane in the future.

How has the current discussion of racism and healthcare inequity affected you, your outlook and your organization? What has been the short-term response, and what do you envision happening over the longer term to your organization and American healthcare?

Recent events have challenged me personally to be a better listener. I believe more than ever that good leading is synonymous with good listening, and good listening is the surest way to change culture.

In the short term, we have heard a lot of commitments from corporations ready to address racism as a very real public health crisis, including Allina Health Aetna. Speaking out is necessary and overdue, but I also hope we will focus equally on listening to and absorbing the lived experience of others.

As an industry grounded in systems thinking and privy to some of our most personal human needs, healthcare is uniquely poised over the long term to hear and unravel how we are all interconnected and affected by inequities in America. I believe we have an obligation to remain bold and proactive in the conversation, first and foremost by listening intently throughout our daily work.

What other kinds of changes do you expect to see in healthcare in the next five to 10 years?

I anticipate deeper payer-provider integration and significantly higher-stakes value-based care and contracting models. I expect rapid acceleration toward telemedicine, including a strong emphasis on behavioral health supports across the life span. I think we’ll see sweeping digitization of consumer experience, in part via machine learning and artificial intelligence. I expect new subscription-based care and coverage models; continued clinical migration into the home, mobile setting or grocery store; and crowdsourcing innovations around ancillary benefits and services, including those directed at social determinants of health.

What have you enjoyed about social distancing and extra stay-at-home time during the past few months?

Honestly, the perspective it brings. I never thought I would be so desperate for two hours of solitude at a coffee shop, to coach grade school basketball or just to hug a friend. I look forward to again enjoying these little things that really aren’t so little.

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