Kevin Conlin retires, his impact endures
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As a champion of better health care quality, affordability, and experience for the Horizon BCBSNJ's members, Conlin built relationships and trust.
Kevin P. Conlin, Chairman of Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey (Horizon BCBSNJ), is retiring today after nine years with the state’s largest insurer. Horizon’s Board of Directors elected Todd C. Brown, who has served on Horizon’s Board since 2012 and as its Lead Director since 2018, as the company’s next Chairman.
While Conlin will no longer spend his days working with the state’s health leaders, his impact will endure for years.
He joined Horizon BCBSNJ in 2012 to lead the company’s healthcare value strategy, helping redefine the way that Horizon works with doctors, hospitals, and others to improve health care quality, affordability, and the member experience.
Building Partnerships that Changed Health Care
“Kevin Conlin has played a major role in shaping and improving health care for the people of New Jersey. His work building innovative care delivery and payment models with the state’s leading health systems and physicians has produced transformative and sustainable benefits,” said Gary D. St. Hilaire, President and CEO of Horizon BCBSNJ. “That work earned him the trust and respect of those health leaders who shared his refusal to accept the status quo and who joined together to transform healthcare in New Jersey.”
Driving Horizon’s Mission to Serve
Kevin Conlin, and the strategy he championed, intentionally broke down the traditional barriers that too often caused conflict between health care providers and health insurers. He saw the two as key partners who could better serve the interests of the patients and members they serve by understanding each other’s challenges and working together to develop new ways to deliver and pay for care.
Having spent a good part of his nearly 40-year career leading physician groups and hospital systems, Conlin used his deep understanding of the challenges facing providers to build relationships with New Jersey’s health care leaders. Those relationships ultimately produced partnerships and innovations that have yielded significant benefits for Horizon’s members and changed health care for the better in New Jersey.
Brown, the new Board Chairman, noted that Conlin took that same collaborative and inclusive approach with those he worked with inside the company, including the Board of Directors, saying, “One of Kevin’s strengths is his ability to engage and inspire the people around him. He won the confidence and admiration of his fellow Board Members just as he did the 5,500 employees he led to achieve so much for the company and the members we serve.”
Horizon Earns National Recognition
Guided by Conlin’s strategy, Horizon BCBSNJ became a nationally recognized leader in arrangements that moved away from compensation based purely on the volume of care delivered to the value of care delivered.
“We have to have payment reform if we’re going to lower costs and improve quality,” said Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, M.D. in a 2019 article about the company’s innovative value-based platforms. Dr. Emanuel is Chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania and a former special advisor for health policy in the Obama White House. “All these experiments with different alternative payment models are vitally important. Horizon was out early, experimenting on episodes of care and other bundling approaches. They are definitely on the cutting edge.”
By connecting payments to quality measures – like infection rates, hospital readmissions, or completed preventive screenings – and creating incentives for doctors and hospitals to eliminate procedures or treatments that were not producing benefits for patients, Horizon was able to work with its partners to produce better outcomes and reduce the total amount being spent on care.
Achieving Better Quality Lowers Costs
The results speak volumes. Today, more than 70% of the doctors in Horizon’s network participate in at least one value-based arrangement with the company. In 2018, Horizon members treated by a doctor participating in a value-based arrangement had a 4 percent lower rate of hospital inpatient admissions, a 6 percent higher rate of colorectal cancer screenings, a 7 percent higher rate of breast cancer screenings, and a 2 percent reduction in potentially avoidable ER visits. An innovative partnership with Atlantic Health System in which the health care system shares financial accountability with Horizon produced a 9% reduction in unnecessary hospitalizations. Quality improvements like that led to a 5% reduction in the total cost of care for the 30,000 Horizon members who were part of the arrangement.
The strategy and relationships took a giant leap forward in 2015 when Horizon and 6 of New Jersey’s leading healthcare systems and its largest multi-specialty physician group announced The OMNIA Health Alliance, a first-of-its-kind collaboration committed to transforming how health care is delivered and paid for. Working together, sharing data, and aligning interests the partners have been able to keep managed care costs 10% below the industry benchmark by delivering on the promise to improve quality and provide a better healthcare experience for members.
Another major milestone in collaboration was achieved in 2020 with the launch of Braven Health, a joint-venture among Horizon BCBSNJ, Hackensack Meridian Health, and RWJBarnabas Health that offers Medicare Advantage plans for seniors. Braven Health plans, available in 8 New Jersey counties, were the choice of more than 13,000 seniors who were attracted to the increased coordination and convenience that is delivered through the increased integration created by this unique payer-provider partnership.
Innovation and transformation were often seen as the hallmarks of Conlin’s leadership at Horizon. Those who worked with him knew that his drive to deliver was rooted in his deep connection and commitment to Horizon’s member-focused mission and unique responsibility to improve New Jersey’s healthcare system and the communities that Horizon serves.
That commitment was on full display when the company announced in 2018 a plan to use more than $275 million from an unexpected tax refund for payments to its members and in multi-year investments that would improve access and care for its members. It was again made evident in the spring of 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic struck and Horizon responded not only by taking care of its members, but also by purchasing more than $2.35 million worth of masks, face shields, and other PPE to donate to hospitals and health facilities that were overrun with patients needing treatment. Less than two weeks later, Horizon made a $2 million contribution to New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund organized to address the medical, social, and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Garden State.
Conlin’s retirement caps a multi-year succession planning process that started in 2019 and included his move into the role of Executive Chairman in April 2020. Working closely with Gary D. St. Hilaire, his successor as President and CEO, he continued to provide vital leadership on key areas of strategic transformation, including the effort to secure passage of a law that allows Horizon BCBSNJ to become a not-for-profit mutual holding company. That change gives Horizon the flexibility to adapt, invest, and partner more effectively in order to meet the changing needs of its members and a rapidly evolving healthcare marketplace.
Todd C. Brown is the former Vice Chairman of ShoreBank Corporation and retired from Kraft Foods, having served as its Executive Vice President. He holds an undergraduate degree from Colgate University, a Masters from Columbia University and earned his MBA from the Wharton School of Business.