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Emerging Leaders in Healthcare: Alina M. Czekai of Cohere Health

MHE PublicationMHE September 2023
Volume 33
Issue 9

Alina Czekai, M.P.H., vice president of value-based care strategy at Cohere Health, a patient-centric, digital health company committed to streamlining the prior authorization process, is one of the 12 up-and-coming leaders in healthcare included in the annual Managed Healthcare Executive feature.

We are thrilled to present this year’s list of 12 emerging leaders in healthcare. Managed Healthcare Executive editors picked the emerging leaders from a list of almost 40 nominees. They come from the full gamut of U.S. healthcare, including companies harnessing the ever-increasing amount of healthcare data, community health worker organizations addressing social determinants of health, and enterprises devoted to improving Medicaid program access and quality. These leaders are tackling the challenges of the 21st century with creativity, dedication and insight. They give us confidence in the future of healthcare.

I grew up outside of Philadelphia. I was a Mercatus Center Frédéric Bastiat fellow and earned a bachelor’s degree in health policy with honors from the University of Rochester and an M.P.H. with a focus on health policy from George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health. 

I served as a senior adviser to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma, leading the agency’s relationships with the healthcare industry and maximizing public support for CMS’s priorities. Prior to my service in the federal government, I led health plan and health system business development at Aspire Health, a leading provider of home-based palliative care. Before Aspire, I was the chief of staff at the American Health Policy Institute, where I managed the think tank’s research and policy agenda.

I recently relocated to Skaneateles, New York, in the Finger Lakes region with my husband, Ross, and our Cavalier King Charles spaniel, Finley.

I have a passion for engaging leaders across the public and private sectors to advance business and policy objectives that enable access to higherquality, value-based healthcare. In my current role I am responsible for devising and executing the company's strategy for value-based care, including new product development and partnerships.

Career Turning Point: Months into my first healthcare job out of college, my sister received a diagnosis of a rare and potentially life-altering disease. My family felt lost, without a map. Through the help of leadership at my company at the time and connections in the medical community, I was able to get my sister in to see a world-renowned specialist at New York University who helped my sister and the rest of my family understand the diagnosis and develop a plan. My sister is now thriving and healthy.

I accepted the help of connections and was elated to help my sister, but I had some guilt, understanding that the privilege of being able to help my sister in that way is one that most American patients and caregivers will never know. This reaffirmed my desire to work in healthcare to make things better, and I made a promise to myself that I will devote my career to ensuring others can have access to — and the ability to navigate — high-quality healthcare.

Biggest challenge of the job: The shift from a volume-based system to a value-based system requires time, major infrastructure change and the total realignment of incentives. Working in value-based care requires tremendous patience!

Long-lasting COVID-19 effect: The COVID-19 pandemic is an experience that touched all of our lives. From a professional perspective, I was responsible for strategic stakeholder engagement with the healthcare industry during the COVID-19 public health emergency. I developed new forums for the agency to gather rapid feedback from patients, providers, hospitals and payers to guide the their pandemic response and development of policy flexibilities.

From a personal perspective, I saw firsthand the mental health and emotional impact on senior citizens during COVID-19, including my grandparents, who became isolated from loved ones, a sense of purpose and routine, and community. Although social distancing guidelines were put in place to keep our vulnerable populations safe, I believe the mental health impact of isolation should have been more carefully considered when developing health policy.

What I would change about U.S. healthcare: The return of a true, mutually trusting, and focused doctor-patient relationship.

A book everyonein healthcare should read: “When Breath Becomes Air” by Dr. Paul Kalanithi, a memoir of a neurosurgeon who changed his lifestyle before dying of cancer at age 37, changed my perspective on how crucial it is to humanize patients in the context of healthcare. All of healthcare needs to meet the patients in a space where they are a person instead of “a problem to be solved.”

A guilty pleasure: Bravo TV's "Real Housewives” and a glass of red wine.

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