HMP Connections - A New Way to Connect!

Interviews with HMP Alumni from the University of Michigan's School of Public Health.


Kevin McDermott

A Conversation with Kevin McDermott

This past semester I had the opportunity to conduct an informational interview with HMP alum Kevin McDermott, Vice President, Provider Strategy and Solutions, at AIM Specialty Health. Kevin completed his Master of Health Services Administration degree in 1996. During our conversation we compared our experiences within the department, how HMP has changed over the years, and where he sees the future of healthcare going.  -  Xaiver Owens MHSA '19


What are some of the most memorable times you had as a student at HMP?
Spring Fling was one of the most memorable things about HMP. It was a fun party with some role-playing skits where you are sort of making fun of yourselves, the second years, or the faculty. And we did all of the above and it was very creative and very funny. Really interesting memories from the years that I was there, from ‘94 to ‘96. Between our first and second year, that's when they merged the Health Management and Health Administration program with Public Health Policy program and combined them into what is now Health Management and Policy (HMP). They were separate departments up until 1995. Before that, the cohort for the Health Administration program was around 40 or 45 students, and we had a very tight-knit group. We got along very well, and still do. I talk to two dozen of my classmates on a regular basis.

When we came back in the fall from our summer internships, we were now an 80 or 85 student cohort, which was quite a change. And we really didn't know the policy kids well and they didn't really know us. We had to figure out how to become a single cohort, because we didn't all start together with orientation or our first year of classes. I think we were probably only partially successful. We only partially got to be friends as an 80-person group. But it was really interesting to see how the department was formed and how it started integrating the administration and management side, with the policy side. We were at ground zero for that. The other main memory is how much fun we had in grad school too.

What is some early career advice you have for an early careerist like me.
The department is known for how well it gets folks out of the program and into jobs by leveraging the alumni network, which is affectionately known out in the market as the "Michigan Mafia". I have leveraged it my entire career and we leverage it to find young new talent now. I'm in the H-Net program in which I mentor current students, and that goes beyond school because I'm still serving as a mentor to HMP grads during their early career. I used to lecture there every year when Dean Smith used to do finance and insurance at SPH. And sometimes I come in to speak in one of the classes, because we have a fairly small alumni base in the payer side relative to the hospital side.

My advice for work has always been: don't narrow your geography because it narrows your opportunities. Don't say I'm going to move to New York City and get a job in health care. You'll likely add six months to your job search. You should find the right mentor and the right experience to really jumpstart your career. If it means moving to Fargo for two years because it's the right person, then do it. Students are typically young, single and flexible in how and where they live their life. You'll do so much better coming out of the gate and working for the right person regardless of geography, versus deciding where you want to live and then hitting the job market. That’s always my number one piece of advice.

My number two piece of advice is never take a job just for the money. You'll earn your fair value by just doing good work and you'll get paid competitively. But sometimes you look at jobs early on and there could be a $30,000 to $40,000 difference in salary right out of the gate. Especially if you're also looking at consulting versus a fellowship. But don't take a job for the money. Always focus on what the opportunity is for mentorship, for growth and for networking, because that's the most valuable thing you'll take out of your Michigan degree and out of your early jobs is leveraging the professional network that you build and the "Michigan Mafia" network to get doors opened for you. It's absolutely the greatest value of the degree you'll get next year, and what you'll leverage through your entire career.

You can come out of grad school and work for Deloitte or Accenture or whatever and get paid $80,000, $90,000 or $100,000 starting salaries. But you have no work life balance, and you're on an airplane every Monday morning, and your only friends are really the friends that you make working at some client project assignment. You're not home much to have a home life, let alone a personal or dating life. There's a tradeoff of work-life balance for you. They pay you so much for taking more of your life because you're stuck in airports all the time. But at the same time consulting is cool. I did it for a few years mid-career and you get to work on a lot of different things over the course of a year. It's a great way to build broad experience quickly and you learn how to really promote your own capabilities on your own. You learn how to market yourself to decision-makers because that's what you have to do within a consulting organization - be the CEO, CFO, and a chief marketing officer of yourself - because you have to get placed on jobs and the way you get placed on jobs is by putting your face out there and getting to know the people who are the ones that sell projects to clients and then figure out who to staff on them. Work-life balance is a key in my life and is part of the reason I'm going on 15 years at AIM, which is crazy! I never thought I'd work at any place that long, but I've got great work-life balance. That's a big deal especially when you have kids of school-age and you need some flexibility around all the family activities that are going on constantly.

What was your career journey, and how did you get to the place you are now at AIM?
The person that reached out to me to join AIM is now the AIM CEO and has been the AIM CEO for several years. He was my summer intern from the HMP program in the summer of ‘97. So, he came down and worked for me at UnitedHealthcare in Columbus, Ohio that summer. And then the following year in ‘98 I took a transfer to the Chicago office of United, and he took his first job out of his master's program with United also in Chicago. The VP for Provider Network for United in Chicago at that time was the guy that ended up being brought on by the owners of AIM to do a turnaround. The company was almost bankrupt back then. He brought on Brandon as his sales guy and they were putting together a new strategy and they needed somebody to take on managing provider networks. So, they called me, and I was in Michigan and at the time I couldn’t move my family. "That's okay, we can get you an apartment. You can just commute in – you're already consulting, so it's the same. You just come in Monday and go home Thursday or Friday." So, I came and interviewed, saw this was a pretty good gig. In the first four years of working for AIM, I flew in from Michigan every Monday morning. I then finally took a relocation once they sold to Anthem and the finances were a little more under scrutiny. A weekly commute was kind of frowned upon in the Anthem world. So that's really how it happened. It was again indirectly the "Michigan Mafia". Brandon was my summer intern from the grad school program that I just graduated from. I was class of ‘96 and he was class of ‘98. This is now the third job technically that we've both had working together.

As a healthcare professional, what keeps you up at night?
I think there are two things that keep people awake. I think for the most part, because AIM is in such a narrow niche of the overall health care delivery system, what keeps me up at night might be unique in the bigger picture. One: Is Wal-Mart going to open up a bunch of primary care clinics and bundle it with their pharmacy program and then maybe open up some imaging centers? Because they have the largest health care spend of any employer group in the country and they could be very disruptive. I think the other interesting development is the Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase company, Haven, and others trying to get into the patient space. I am wondering how the "retail-ization" of health care is going to impact the current delivery model. [editor note: come to the 2019 GLC Biennial Symposium to hear about all the disruption in healthcare.]

I think that keeps up a lot of the hospital executives of our alumni base. From my perspective, the thing that really keeps me up at night is how do we get the health care ecosystem to be more interoperable and for it to really manage workflow and automation? How we can have payers, providers, and pharmacies talk on the same data platforms? It's five to ten years from ever happening, but it is going to be the future. And how do you get in front of it so that you are driving it and benefiting from it, instead of it negatively impacting you because you aren't paying attention?

What is the future of healthcare?
I think there is going to be rapid consolidation of data and payer-provider data sharing and exchanges to get to more pseudo-interoperability to where people either establish the trust factor to share data or they get over not trusting people and share the data anyway. Because that's the only way to really move forward with managing population health and managing your sickest people - by tracking down all the data that you don't have within your scope or view of the patient: whether it be physician practice, hospital, payer, or pharmacy.

I really think delivery system disruption is going to be interesting with more and more retail. The Aetna/CVS merger is going to be very interesting in how they will look more like a retail clinic model, similar to Haven and Wal-Mart establishing retail clinics as the largest employer in the country. That's really just going to challenge the hospital delivery system to be leaner and meaner on competing and cutting as much fat as they can, because two main problems with the sustainability and affordability of health care in the country are the cost of drugs and the cost of hospitals.

And if they don't self-regulate, which they haven't done to-date, it's going to cost more money every year. The government is going to start either price-fixing for drugs or setting price rates at hospitals, which you could say Medicare already does. If they decide what to pay hospitals, then the commercial payers could just adopt that and say “well, we're paying no more PPO rates, everything is Medicare rate now.” Or, the government tackles the benefit side and passes something like the “Medicare for All” or a pseudo-single payer model. Something has got to give, or the country is going to go bankrupt trying to pay for health care. I don’t know if there’s a silver bullet, but there are six or seven things that need to be change in succession to reform the system, and its payer, its provider, its policy, its pharma, and malpractice reform. There are any number of fronts in health care. Technology is going to be the biggest and most immediate ones. You don't need that much policy to adopt technology.

Xaiver OwensXavier Owens is currently a 2nd year Master of Health Services Administration (MHSA) Candidate within HMP. His professional interests include precision health, predictive analytics, and healthcare finance. While at the University of Michigan he serves as Treasurer for the Public Health Student Assembly (PHSA) and Committee Chair within the Michigan Healthcare Executives Student Association (MHESA). Xavier is originally from Michigan but loves to travel all over the world.