By Denise Clay
Last Wednesday, the fourth annual National Conference on Healthcare Disparities began at the Marriot Hotel here in Philadelphia.
Healthcare providers, policy makers, and advocates for minority health discussed ways to remove some of the roadblocks that separate people of color and the low income from what they need to stay healthy. Among the topics that came up during the conference was the impact of healthcare reform, how companies are negotiating it, and what that means for healthcare consumers.
Among those who took part in this discussion was Michael Rashid, President and CEO of the AmeriHealth Mercy family of healthcare companies. The company, which administers the Keystone Mercy Health Plan, has been meeting the needs of low-income patients through programs like Medicaid, and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) for the last 25 years. With 15 million members in three states, it is the largest multi-state provider of healthcare services for the low-income.
Rashid became the President and CEO of AmeriHealth Mercy in January of this year. He came to the company in 1995 after a stint as President and Chief Executive Officer of Mercy Health Plan of New Jersey (now Horizon NJ Health). He had also been Director of Medicaid Operations for Prudential Health Plan’s Atlantic Region. He has also served as AmeriHealth Mercy’s executive vice president.
The SUN spoke to Rashid about his vision for the company, the ways that healthcare reform isn’t changing how it does business, and how a weekly outing with his father shaped his career path.
SUN: Thank you for your time today, Mr. Rashid. I guess my first question to you is how did you get into healthcare management.
MR: I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama in the 1950s. During that time, it was known as the “Pittsburgh of the South” because of all of the coalmines. Tuberculosis was a big issue. My father worked for the Negro Tuberculosis Association and on Sunday nights, he went out into the coal mines and went door to door to try and get people to get chest x-rays because that was the way it was detected then. My father worked long hours so I didn’t get to see him much. But I went with him on these trips on Sundays because I didn’t have school that day. I got to spend time with him and he was doing a great work that saved lives. That left an indelible impression on me.
When I was 17, and I went to college [at UCLA], I was asked what I wanted to do. I said that I wanted to be a doctor because in my neighborhood, doctors were top of the food chain. But I was told that I hadn’t done well enough in science or math. So I went into business and majored in marketing and finance. But healthcare was a part of my roots. When I graduated from college, I went to work as an assistant comptroller for an HMO in Baltimore. Managed care was in its infancy in the 1970s. I’ve grown with the industry.
SUN: So how did you connect with AmeriHealth Mercy?
MR: I’ve been here for 15 years. I was recruited when I was [Chief Executive Officer] of the company that I was working for in Baltimore to be the CEO of a startup that the company was starting in New Jersey. I was brought to the main headquarters as Chief Operating Officer. I was made CEO when AmeriHealth Mercy’s previous CEO Dan Hilferty left for Independence Blue Cross.
SUN: Could you tell me a little bit about the company and what it does? I understand that it is one of the largest providers of healthcare insurance for low-income people.
MR: We serve 7.5 million people in 11 states. We serve people who are medical assistance, people who are poor or have chronic diseases. What we do is contract with the states and they pay us a flat fee in exchange for providing Medicare recipients with a package of benefits. We contract with doctors, hospitals and laboratories.
SUN: As the CEO of a healthcare company, you probably kept an eye on the healthcare reform debate this Spring. Now that healthcare reform has become the law of the land, how has it impacted AmeriHealth Mercy?
MR: The Healthcare Reform bill is going to cover a lot of Americans who are not yet covered when all of its provisions phase in in 2014. It will cover 30 million new people, which means that there will be 16 million new people covered by medical assistance. For us, that means we’ll be bringing in 800,000 new people. So it’s good for us because we’ll be getting new members.
But it hasn’t changed all that much for us as a company. We’ve never been able to deny people insurance due to pre-existing conditions. We’ve never had lifetime limits on coverage. We’ve always allowed parents to keep their children on their insurance until they turn 26. Our programs have always been more generous than those of commercial insurers.
SUN: Are there any new programs or initiatives that you want to begin?
MR: Yes. Let me start with the management of the company itself. I want to build a stronger leadership management team. I want us to be recognized as the nationwide leader in providing care to the poor and the chronically ill.
I also want to continue to beef up the capabilities of our management team through our policies of inclusion. We believe that we can maximize whatever you bring to the party.
As for programs, we already have some programs that have been really successful. Our “Lose to Win” obesity program has just won an award. Because it is one of the factors in diabetes, we need to do a lot more work with children and obesity and obesity in general. I would also like to see us expand some of our current programs. For example, our “Healthy Hoops” asthma program reaches just 10 percent of the people in the country. In Philadelphia, that’s only 30,000 people. We’re just scratching the surface.
SUN: You are the first African American CEO of AmeriHealth Mercy. What does that mean to you?
MR: I don’t really think about that much. I didn’t just get this job solely as Mike Rashid. I got it as part of a team. This is not because of the work of just one person, it is a team effort. I can’t do this by myself. I may have been the team’s leader, but my being CEO is an achievement of what the team as done, as well as what I have done.