BERNARD TYSON came aboard as president and CEO of the $50 billion Kaiser Permanente health system last May, following some 30 years with the Oakland, Calif., organization. Tyson, 55, an avid cook and San Francisco-area native, spent a few minutes with H&HN discussing his expectations for the insurance exchanges this year, Kaiser's push for affordability and diversity in the C-suite. | Interviewed by Marty Stempniak

What's on the horizon for Kaiser? What is top of mind for you?

TYSON: A couple of things. First, like many others, we're in the midst now of the first part of the next phase of the Affordable Care Act, and we are knee-deep in the implementation phase. We expect to grow as a result, so we are really working hard to welcome, hopefully, millions more into Kaiser Permanente and to make sure that we deliver on the value proposition of Kaiser Permanente for our members. The second one is that we are moving full-speed ahead with our affordability agenda. We continue to work hard to drive our costs down while we improve on our quality and service agenda.

What do you hope to accomplish in the short and long term?

TYSON: In the short term, it is definitely to get greater traction on our mission of affordability as we improve on our quality agenda. At the same time, working to become much more consumer-friendly and consumer-oriented is a big part of our short-term and long-term agendas. Lastly, we have and will continue to invest a lot in technology that allows us to become even more efficient and member-focused in our care. In the long term, we're working on serving as the model for this country around what's possible in providing the highest-quality care at a price that is affordable. So, our long-term vision really is to be the solution for health care and to bring forward a value proposition for the quality of care for both sickness and prevention at an affordable price.

What do you expect regarding insurance exchanges?

TYSON: I'm pleased with the progress we're making, not only within Kaiser Permanente, but also in California in general. I think we're still going to see a learning curve both for the health care industry and for the American people, but we're going to continue to see traction in the rollout of the exchanges in 2014. We're clear about our strategy with the exchanges. We want to play in every market that we're in. We've decided to bring the Kaiser Permanente product that we deliver to the market every single day into the exchanges, and we want to do it at the most affordable price possible.

What has Kaiser done to prepare itself to this point?

TYSON: We have continued to work on our affordability agenda, and so we have competitive prices to offer the market. We are communicating better about the Five-Star Award in Medicare, and the Leapfrog Award of best hospitals in the country that we recently received. We are telling our story better, so consumers can understand the value proposition of Kaiser Permanente against the competition. We're talking about our Kaiser Permanente model being the model that we deliver to the market every single day, versus other models in which they've gone to narrow networks and other new configurations of delivering care. Once again, we are showing members a great set of options when they belong to Kaiser Permanente. You can talk to your doctor by phone, you can email your doctor, you can visit your doctor, you have a whole care team.

What will be the biggest challenge for payers?

TYSON: Clearly, the implementation challenges probably still will be going on, so I expect that that will continue to be a challenge as we go forward. Depending on how aggressive we are in the whole industry and at the governmental level in convincing younger, healthier people to [participate in] the exchanges as well, we could end up with a higher-risk population. I think the other challenge is just implementing a very complex law that is the biggest change in the health care industry probably since Medicare.

Why is affordability so important to you?

TYSON: First, at a global level, the overall cost of care in this country is 18 percent of GDP and, by all accounts, it's going to be unsustainable in the long run. It's taking too much of our national resources to provide critical services that, overall, are very good, but obviously there's a lot of room for higher-quality and more consistent care at the macro level.

Why is it so important to me at the level of Kaiser Permanente? To the extent that there are millions of people who want to join our organization and can't afford it, that's completely opposite of our mission of affordability and the highest-quality care possible. My customers are telling me directly, "You're providing wonderful care, wonderful services, but we need more affordability," and I pay attention to that. I know that we have room to deliver more affordability as we go forward.

The last reason is that the American people only have so much money to spend, and as individuals pay more and more for their own care, it is consuming more and more of their disposable dollars, and they are making other life choices at times to account for those shortages. We at Kaiser Permanente and the entire health care industry have room to be more efficient and effective on the affordability agenda while in no way compromising quality and service.

How can CEOs ensure that their leadership team matches the population they serve?

TYSON: Part of my job is to build the expectation of leadership to make sure that both the leadership and the teams they're building reflect the populations in their communities and across this country. I can't imagine a team that is not diverse. I just can't imagine that. And so, I think it's building a clear expectation and an awareness as opposed to some kind of special initiative or program. Also, I think all of our communities are so diverse now, it gives an organization the added advantage of being able to leverage the synergy from those diverse leadership teams that understand the issues of the different communities we serve.

How does diversity go beyond race and ethnicity?

TYSON: Communities are no longer just the physical sites and locations that we've thought about historically. Communities are now being created through technology, through social media. So, I need to make sure that diversity is not limited to a geographic area where we provide care, when I can have a network of cancer patients from around the country through social media, connected and interacting with each other. I've got to have that kind of diversity at that level, as well. •


The TYSON File

C.V.:

"I've been privileged to be at Kaiser Permanente for almost 30 years. I've worked in all parts of the organization and have spent my entire working life in the health care industry. So, I am deep in knowledge and awareness, from a historical standpoint, which I think gives me that advantage of going into an uncertain future."

What are you reading?

A management book called Execution by Larry Bossidy. "I've actually read it before, but I'm re-reading it because I'm focusing my top leadership team on greater execution over the next several years, and this is one book that really impressed me when I read it several years ago."

Biggest influence?

"My father continues to be the first person who comes to mind when I am asked that question. He's deceased now, but I still hear some of his wonderful insights and teachable moments."

Any hobbies?

"I love to cook. It's serious business for me, but I guess I would call it a hobby. I could come in and whip up anything."