The Pollack File

Which mentor influenced you the most?

Dick Davidson (former AHA president and CEO)

After nearly 25 years of heading the AHA’s lobbying efforts, what stands out as one of your proudest moments or achievements?

Helping to create the Coalition to Protect America’s Health Care, providing leadership in several efforts to expand coverage for the uninsured and building an advocacy team that is recognized as one of the best in America.

What book is on your nightstand?

Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham

What are your hobbies?

I enjoy spending free time playing with my grandson, taking pictures — photography has been a lifelong hobby — working out and following various sports.

Editor’s Note:

Pollack is the third consecutive Richard J. to be named AHA president and CEO — Richard J. Davidson, Richard J. Umbdenstock, Richard J. Pollack.


How concerned are you about field unity as the health care landscape continues to shift?

POLLACK: Maintaining field unity is absolutely critical. I’ve been executive vice president for 25 years and field unity is something I have always focused on. With just a couple of exceptions, I think we’ve hung together very well. But, there are always challenges.

Whether we were navigating our way through the sustainable growth rate formula fix or making sure there weren’t cuts in the most recent trade bill, or avoiding cuts in the 21st Century Cures Act, there has been total unity. We have an agenda where there are a lot of things on which we can agree.

It may be a cliché, but there’s a lot more that unites us than divides us. No matter what pathway you take to the future, everybody wants to make sure that there aren’t any more budget reductions in Medicare and Medicaid. Everybody has an interest in expanding coverage. Everybody has an interest in expanding opportunities for telemedicine and achieving better IT interoperability. Everybody has an interest in breaking down barriers to clinical integration. Everybody has an interest in pushing back on the overreaching behavior of the recovery audit contractors. Everybody has an interest in performance improvement on quality, safety, diversity and disparities.

In other interviews, you’ve alluded to an emerging policy issue: addressing financing for what you deemed essential services — emergency preparedness, graduate medical education and more. How do you see that playing out?

POLLACK: We are moving into a new era of economics in health care. In this new world, purchasers of health services are generally focused on one, and only one, thing and that is the lowest price. Of course, they are concerned about value and quality, but ultimately they seem to be concerned about getting the lowest price.

If everyone is just concerned about getting the lowest price or the lowest rate, how can we pay for the social goods, many of which are essential public services that the public depends upon? How do we finance emergency preparedness? How do we finance GME beyond Medicare’s contribution? How do we finance research?

When community members are facing a traumatic situation, whether it is an accident or an epidemic, they don’t run to their insurance company, minute clinic or an imaging center, they end up coming to the hospital because we are the ultimate safety net in society. If everybody is just paying the lowest amount, the question becomes, how do we sustain the social goods?

In this new environment, the public needs to understand the challenge, and we need to be thoughtful about how we finance these services.

Will this be one of the main issues you take up as president and CEO?

POLLACK: Yes. We have to give voice to it.

You brought up the word “consumer.” We are hearing about consumerism in health care now. How big a shift is it for hospitals to think about consumers vs. patients?

POLLACK: It is going to be really important that our field makes some adjustments. The hospital experience typically comes from episodic interactions with patients and consumers, mainly encountering them when they walk through the doors of our facilities.

As we move toward value-based payment, bundling and population health for attributable populations, we have to engage our patients on a more continuous basis, not only to improve their care, but to ensure loyalty and to manage their health and wellness. Digital strategies provide a key platform for addressing this challenge. While providing clinically competent care is key, ensuring a great patient care experience in every interaction will be more important than ever before.