Growing up on Capitol Hill in a Washington, DC political family, Sarah Iselin did the obvious thing, at least to her, by rebelling and going to art school. But when her practical self realized that was going to make for a hard living, she eventually found her way to healthcare through an internship at the Visiting Nurses Association that launched her into a long and successful career. A serendipitous connection to a lifelong mentor, Andrew Dreyfus, now CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, led Sarah down a long and successful path at BCBS Massachusetts and its Foundation. This path then winded it’s way to the Massachusetts State House where she was instrumental in designing what we now call RomneyCare and served as Commissioner of Healthcare Finance and Policy in the administration of Governor Deval Patrick.
To know Sarah is to know she is pure sunshine. She is always smiling and ready to embrace you with a positive attitude. Yes, she has rapidly climbed the healthcare ladder, driving innovation as both payer executive and government official. But she is especially excited today to use her current leadership position as SVP and Chief Strategy Officer at Florida Blue Cross Blue Shield (aka Guidewell) as a platform to drive social justice by addressing community challenges like access to effective mental health care.
Sarah is exquisitely aware of the challenges people face when depression, anxiety and worse come calling. Because despite all of her success, Sarah has had, like so many others, also experienced the lowest of the lows. The love of her life committed suicide 3 ½ years ago and then, while she was reeling from that, her son experienced some severe mental health issues and spent a long time in psychiatric facilities and programs on his way to getting better.
Navigating the care process for her son laid bare the difficulties people face in accessing effective mental healthcare when they need it. Her openness on this topic and her willingness to talk openly about these experiences also serve to remind all of us that everyone has a story, and that even the most successful and accomplished people face the very real ups and downs of life.
We are so excited to have Sarah on the show today to learn about her work and life, and for her also to demonstrate the power of resilience.
We are grateful to GE Ventures for their sponsorship today. GE Ventures – Multiple Paths to Big Impact.
Link to David’s AI article in Forbes
Charles Gross says
Great talk and spot on re behavioral health as ripe for innovation. In my role as VP for Behavioral Health Anthem, I see many pitches from new BH digital solutions- and think that many are “deck chairs on the titanic versus disruptive entries”, to use Lisa’s phrase. So many are rooted in delivering 20th century behavioral health product through 21st century platform. What is needed is rethinking of the product versus a short term focus on platform. A particular area of challenge/opportunity is preventive interventions – “drinking upstream from the herd”- an opportunity that is tantalizing close, and yet far away, given current reimbursement models and insurance configurations. Good for Sarah for thinking deeply about this space.
Lisa Suennen says
Charles, you are so right! If you have seen any companies that you think are particularly strong/interesting, I’d love to know which they are. Lisa
Charles Gross says
Lisa- Thanks for responding. Happy to chat further via email.
Lena Chaihorsky says
Hi Charles and Lisa,
I wanted to throw my hat into the ring of this discussion and say not only that I completely agree with you, but that our team founded a company (Alva10) to deal with precisely this issue. Our healthcare system doesn’t value diagnosis and prevention because the reimbursement system does not reward these innovations and behaviors the way they do therapeutic ones. Furthermore, insurance companies have historically operated primarily on a business model of trying to identify what percent of the claims presented for payment represent necessary care. Conversely, we work with insurance companies as partners to develop precisely the diagnostic tools most needed to manage high risk, high cost populations that see poor outcomes. We are enabling the development of new diagnostics, while enabling payers to participate in the process of ‘commissioning’ these diagnostics from the industry. Happy to chat on this further – we must rework the business models that keep us from shifting our healthcare system to one of diagnosis and prevention! Lena Chaihorsky (firstname.lastname@example.org)