Emerging Industry Leaders: Joyce Chan Russell of Priority Health

MHE Publication, MHE September 2022, Volume 32, Issue 9

Joyce Chan Russell, MBA, senior vice president of government markets at Priority Health, a health plan in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is one of the 10 up-and-coming healthcare leaders featured in the annual Managed Healthcare Executive feature.

Joyce Chan Russell, MBA

I grew up near Dallas, Texas, and received bachelor’s degrees in chemical engineering and liberal arts from The University of Texas at Austin. After working as an engineer at Kodak for a few years, I decided to change careers and went to University of Michigan to pursue an MBA.

Early in my healthcare career in 2010, I was learning the business as a program manager supporting Medicare Stars, a quality ratings program that was newly tied to revenue through the Affordable Care Act. The executive leader overseeing this work asked me to move into a new, larger role overseeing all the plan’s quality ratings.

Several co-workers cautioned me that the role would be a lot of work and that my leader had a reputation for being a tough grader. I have never been one to shy away from a challenge and ultimately decided to take on the new role. It proved to be one of the best decisions of my career. I learned a lot, achieved notable successes and worked for a “tough grader” who also turned out to be an incredible leader, mentor and friend.

I have hired, supported and mentored some extraordinary people. I am proud and humbled by their professional successes, and I am grateful to be part of their journeys. It is always such a pleasure to reconnect with former colleagues and team members, to catch up on life and our careers, and to share perspectives.

Why did you decide to pursue a career in healthcare?

I took a leave of absence from my engineering job in 2004 to work on voter registration efforts, knocking on doors and talking to people. It was through these conversations that I developed a deep understanding of the challenges people face with respect to access and affordability of high-quality healthcare. While it wasn’t until several years later that I shifted my career to healthcare, this was the spark that started me on that pathway.

Which career accomplishment are you proudest of and why?

I am proud of the work I’ve done to support health equity through the Medicare Star Ratings program. When I was at Healthfirst, a New York-based, not-for-profit health plan, I worked in collaboration with other payers, researchers, policymakers and industry associations to highlight the unique challenges of plans serving complex and vulnerable low-income populations.

These challenges contributed to lower star ratings and subsequently reduced benefits for the beneficiaries that needed them the most. As a result of this work, CMS modified its Star Ratings program to adjust for income and disability, a meaningful step in supporting health equity.

What is the most challenging part of your current position?

Balancing the speed of change in healthcare and our desire to innovate and move quickly with the need to take a structured approach and ensure we build from a solid foundation.

What is your organization doing to address healthcare equity?

Priority Health is committed to addressing social determinants of health (SDOH) and working to achieve health equity. We use data as our guide to implement innovative programs that address the most critical SDOH. Last year, we launched a full life cycle SDOH program, partnering with Socially Determined, Same Sky and Findhelp to proactively identify social risk, initiate culturally resonant engagement, connect members with critical resources to address their needs and measure impact to further refine our program.

If you could change one thing in U.S. healthcare, what would it be?

I would make it more affordable. Healthcare in the U.S. is incredibly complex and inefficient, which drives up cost. The harder question is how to change it.

How do you avoid burnout?

Honestly, I haven’t quite figured this out, but I am getting better. With the pandemic, I have learned the value of taking time each day to walk my dog, to read for fun and to enjoy time with my children. One important thing that has helped me immensely as a working mother is having excellent, reliable child care. Knowing that my children are safe and happy while I’m working puts my mind at ease and allows me to focus and engage more deeply on work.