Kim Keck became the first woman President & Chief Executive Officer of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association in January of 2021. In her role leading BCBSA, Keck has championed maternal health, health equity, community health and coordinating on a national level to advance affordability and overall wellness.
Prior to BCBSA, Keck served as President & CEO of Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island after working at Aetna for nearly three decades in a variety of leadership roles. Among those was interim president of the southeast region — a role in which she had oversight of five million members and $20 billion in revenue.
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Leading up to the 2022 Health Evolution Summit, where Keck will be a Main Stage discussion leader, we interviewed her about leveraging data to lay the foundation for a more equitable and affordable U.S. health care system, becoming a part of the Health Evolution Equity Pledge, her top priorities for the future and more. Keck is also a Health Evolution Forum Fellow in the Roundtable on Community Health and Advancing Health Equity.
How has transitioning from President & CEO of BCBS Rhode Island to President & CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield Association changed you as a leader?
From a leadership competency and style perspective, moving from leading a Blue Plan to leading the national Association has led me to focus more on broad influence rather than direct ownership. When I was leading an individual company, I had much more ownership and direct impact, while at the Association, my role is oriented around influencing outcomes, driving the collective mission and vision of our 35 BCBS companies, and shaping policy and health leadership at a national level. This takes a different kind of leadership as we continue to pave the way for a more equitable, affordable healthcare system for the one in three Americans we serve — and all Americans.
With one in three Americans covered by a Blue system in some capacity, how do you now think about being able to impact even more people’s lives?
What’s so special about the Blue System is that we have network providers in every ZIP code in America, which gives us incredible insight into specific health care needs across the country. During my first year at BCBSA, I’ve intentionally sought out local Blue Plan expertise and created coordination on the national level to advance well-being, health equity and affordability. Because our Plans share deep, local connections to their communities, I’ve learned firsthand how we’re uniquely positioned to partner with organizations and leaders making a difference in their neighborhoods, to be a policy leader, and to use our knowledge and insights to elevate health issues impacting the country.
I’ve found it helpful to focus on ‘how’ I lead as much as ‘what’ my various roles entailed. My ‘how’ is servant leadership: accepting I don’t have all the answers, accelerating my personal curiosity and thriving on listening and learning.
Kim Keck , BCBSA
When Health Evolution interviewed you in 2019, you aligned top priorities into three buckets: care transformation, convenience, and comprehensive health and wellbeing. How has the pandemic changed those?
The pandemic has made every American acutely aware of their physical and mental health, their families’ health and the health of our country. We’ve had to grapple with the loss of too many lives, and once again we’ve seen a disproportionate impact on vulnerable populations and communities of color.
Looking back on my top priorities in 2019, I believe these are still critical pieces of health care transformation — and, in fact, we have continued to build on them as we’ve defined our national platform at the association. Now, more than ever, I feel a personal sense of responsibility and urgency to make health care work better. At BCBSA, we’re intently focused on two broad priorities: advancing well-being and health equity across the country and championing affordable health care — priorities that depend on care transformation, convenience and comprehensive health and well-being.
We’ve redoubled our efforts across the system to advance health equity and change the trajectory of health disparities in our communities. We’re setting bold goals to hold ourselves accountable, and we know we can’t do it alone — this will require collaboration with communities, state officials and national health experts to meaningfully address root causes of inequities. And as we continue this work, we simply have to make health care more affordable to help our members and communities and to create a system that’s sustainable.
BCBSA is recognized for actively working to address racial health disparities. How is the organization uniquely positioned to advance health equity?
Our deep roots in local communities, combined with the scale and scope of our national reach—a national network of more than 1.7 million providers—enable all of us at Blue companies to drive our National Health Equity Strategy to confront the nation’s crisis in racial health disparities. Our multiyear strategy focuses on conditions that disproportionately affect communities of color, starting with maternal health, because data shows the rates of childbirth complications have been increasing for women of color. Our goal is to lead the industry in reducing maternal health disparities by 50 percent in five years, and we’re working with communities, state officials and national health experts to meet that goal.
We’re also working to expand the availability of data — specifically race/ethnicity/language data, or “REL” data, and data on sexual orientation and identity — which directly connects to Health Evolution’s Health Equity Pledge, which BCBSA supports. Data is crucial to drive the right interventions for the right people at the right time, to measure disparities, improve outcomes and address unconscious bias.
As the first woman CEO of BCBSA, what advice do you have for other women executives working to move into the CEO role?
When I look back on my career, a pivotal moment in my development was when one of my bosses hand-selected me to try a role I wasn’t sure I could do. It was extremely challenging, but it forced me to stretch and grow, and it turned out to be an invaluable experience that gave me confidence to eventually take on a CEO role. It’s so important to step out of your comfort zone and dive headfirst into new responsibilities. I’ve also found it extremely helpful to focus on “how” I work and lead just as much as “what” my various roles entailed. For me, my “how” is rooted in the concept of servant leadership — accepting I don’t have all the answers, accelerating my personal curiosity on a wide span of issues, and thriving on listening and learning — and this leadership approach has led me to where I am today.
The upcoming Health Evolution Summit takes place April 6-8, 2022 and the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel and the Waldorf Astoria Resort & Club in Dana Point, CA. Learn more or apply to participate.