December 15, 2023 Episode 61

Deciphering the New Normal (Part 4): Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts’ Chief Strategy Officer, Sukanya Soderland

A window into the decisions that payers in unique, regional markets are making as they adapt to the post-pandemic world completes a four episode series with heads of strategy.

Deciphering the New Normal (Part 4): Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts’ Chief Strategy Officer, Sukanya Soderland

This is the final episode in a four part series with heads of strategy at providers and payers from across the healthcare ecosystem to explore “the new normal” in a post-COVID operating environment. For this episode Keith Figlioli welcomed Sukanya Soderland, Chief Strategy Officer at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, to explore how a regional payer is adapting. This follows previous episodes that offered a diverse perspective from heads of strategy at:

To wrap up this series, Sukanya provides a glimpse into the strategy at BCBS MA, the largest health plan in Massachusetts and a mostly commercial-focused payer that serves nearly three million members across New England. Unlike most not-for-profit organizations, BCBS MA pays significant federal, state, and local taxes and assessments. Without soliciting or receiving charitable donations, or benefiting from tax-exempt financing, BCBS MA stays competitive by generating a small margin from operations that it reinvests in its business, people, and technology, and by remaining deeply focuses on the community its serves.

In her discussion with Keith, Sukanya shared her outlook on issues including:

  • Shared empathy between operations and innovation. For any head of strategy, serving the immediate needs of an organization is equally as important as anticipating and planning for future demands and market forces. Sukanya discussed how business leaders can sometimes view innovation leaders as out of touch with current realities, while innovation leaders might view business leaders as “dinosaurs.” She talked about the importance of developing a culture of empathy and trust between these groups.
  • Building vs. buying vs. co-designing. To stay competitive against larger, national organizations, regional payers must recognize what they do well and where they should partner with other like-minded entities to augment their capabilities. Sukanya talked about making decisions to partner or co-develop capabilities with others, including sister companies across the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, as a way of advancing sustainable, non-profit healthcare. She also recognized the challenges with driving meaningful change in affordability, quality and consumer experience without being intimately involved in care delivery, and discussed creative ways of partnering with incumbent health systems or new and innovative care delivery models to make that happen.
  • Changing dynamics in how people access care. One of the biggest changes Sukanya sees occurring over the next decade is the way people access care. She discussed several of the market factors driving this change from the supply and demand of primary care physicians, to Generation Z aging into adulthood. She talked about how healthcare is losing the “quarterback” function as young adults turn to social media, trusted contacts and convenience in place of a strong relationship with a primary provider, and how that impacts strategy.

To hear Keith and Sukanya discuss these topics and more, listen to this episode of Healthcare is Hard: A Podcast for Insiders.