Karen Sue Lynch

Karen Sue Lynch
President
Aetna Inc.

Last Updated: 06/07/2018

Executive Summary

Lynch is President of Aetna Inc., one of the nation’s leading diversified healthcare benefits companies, serving an estimated 46 million people. She took over the operational helm of Hartford, Connecticut-based company in 2015 from Mark T. Bertolini, who remains Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. Lynch continues to lead Local and Regional businesses but now oversees as well the company’s National, Government, and Specialty businesses. In 2016 she told Leaders, "Our success is the result of being a purpose-driven company with employees who have a passion for delivering quality healthcare and building a healthier world. I get up every morning knowing that 20-plus million people count on us for their overall healthcare needs. This is part of what makes Aetna unique and special. We are driven by a higher purpose – to build a healthier world, one person at a time, one community at a time." Lynch joined Aetna in 2012 as Executive Vice President and Head of Specialty Products. In 2013, she assumed management of Aetna’s Local and Regional businesses, and has successfully led Aetna’s integration efforts for the 2013 acquisition of Coventry Health Care. Rohan has nearly two decades of experience in the health care industry. She joined Aetna from Magellan Health Services, where she served as President. At Magellan she was responsible for the development and operational execution of the company’s business strategy, as well as the profit and loss for all of Magellan’s business units. Prior to Magellan Lynch was President of Cigna’s Group Disability, Dental and Vision Care businesses. This role was the culmination an 18-year career with Cigna that included a number of positions with increasing responsibilities in business strategy, operations and finance. Lynch began her career with Ernst & Young as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA).

Personal Attributes and Interests

  • Lynch is married.
  • She is Aetna's first-ever female President.
  • She is interested in running, reading, the beach and results-based leadership.
  • She is an avid recreational runner and marathoner. In 2017 she said she is mixing in spinning to save her knees. “If I’m going to run a healthcare company and advocate health, it’s important for me to remain healthy," she said.
  • Lynch has participated in numerous events including the Falmouth Road Race in Falmouth, Massachusetts.
  • Her philosophy: “It’s your attitude that determines success or failure.”
  • Her greatest influence: "I have what I call my personal board of directors. They are made up of business colleagues, friends and family. They have encouraged me to take risks and opportunities and to be passionate about what I do."
  • In 2005, she was listed in Women Worth Watching by Diversity Journal.
  • She was named a finalist for the Female Executive of the Year in the American Business Awards competition known as "The Stevies."
  • In 2012, she was named the “Most Influential in Specialty Health” by the National Association for Specialty Health Organizations.
  • She also was named on the Business Insurance “Women to Watch” list in 2006.
  • Lynch is a strong advocate for women in leadership and has spoken publicly and in interviews about her experience.
  • In 2011, she co-chaired the Health Care and Pharmaceutical Task Force for the Wall Street Journal Women in the Economy Conference.
  • She is an advocate for the non-profit Share Our Strength program, a national movement to end childhood hunger.
  • She was named one among the “Most Powerful Women” by Fortune in 2016.
  • In 2017, Lynch was chosen by Modern Healthcare as one of the Top 25 Women in Healthcare.
  • According to a 2017 interview with the Furst Group, "Healthcare executives often talk about the importance of mentors and sponsors in their career. Lynch points to one from her childhood as a foundation for success in life – the aunt who raised Lynch and her three siblings after Lynch’s mom committed suicide. Lynch was 12 at the time. 'My aunt grew up in the Depression,' Lynch remembers. 'Her parents came over from Poland. They were ailing, and she took care of them. She worked in a factory her entire life. Her husband passed away early on. She took care of her only son, and then she took on the responsibility of all four of us.' Lynch says her aunt – and life itself – helped imbue her with resilience and a positive, constructive attitude. She says she met her father once, but does not regret his absence. 'I think it’s made me the strong person I am today. I have a perspective of optimism, and the glass is always half-full.' When Lynch was in her 20s, her aunt died from emphysema and breast and lung cancer, the result of heavy cigarette smoking. Nonetheless, her positive impact on Lynch had already been formed. 'My aunt was a very strong woman,' Lynch recalls. 'She didn’t let anything get in her way. She instilled values in us like, ‘You can do anything that you set your mind to. And don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do anything.’' Her influence is evident in Lynch’s career arc. And it was, in part, her aunt’s illness that led her ultimately to a career in healthcare after a stint as an auditor for Ernst + Young. 'I remember sitting in her hospital room thinking, ‘I don’t know what questions to ask the doctors. I don’t know what to do to care for her,’ ' Lynch says. 'I’ve made it my life mission now to bring the services to individuals so they can answer those questions when someone’s in need. Or, better yet, how do we keep people healthy in the first place?'...'I have a passion for holistic healthcare and taking care of the whole person,' she says, 'because with every chronic condition, many people are also suffering from a mental health condition. There are a lot of co-morbid diagnoses.' Her mother informs that passion as well. 'Because my mom died by suicide, I believe very strongly in promoting mental health awareness and making sure people have access to the services that they need.' Lynch found a strong partner in that endeavor in her husband Kevin, who founded the Quell Foundation two years ago to eradicate the stigma of mental health disorders. 'He gives scholarships to children who have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder, and also to kids who want to go to college to work in the field of psychiatry or psychology. And I personally fund the scholarship for kids who have lost a parent through suicide.' This year, the Quell Foundation will provide $200,000 in scholarships to young people across the country. It’s one more motivation Lynch cites for doing what she does in her career. 'I get up every single morning,' she says, 'trying to think about how we can have a positive impact on people’s lives and make this healthcare system better.'"

Current Focus

  • Company Snapshot: Aetna is one of the nation’s leading diversified healthcare benefits companies, serving an estimated 46.7 million people with information and resources to help them make better-informed decisions about their healthcare. Aetna offers a broad range of traditional, voluntary and consumer-directed health insurance products and related services, including medical, pharmacy, dental, behavioral health, group life and disability plans, and medical management capabilities, Medicaid healthcare management services, workers’ compensation administrative services and health information technology products and services. Aetna’s customers include employer groups, individuals, college students, part-time and hourly workers, health plans, healthcare providers, governmental units, government-sponsored plans, labor groups, and expatriates.
  • Post-Merger Role: In June 2018, Aetna announced that Lynch will serve as Executive Vice President of CVS Health and President for the Aetna business unit, following its acquisition by CVS Health.
  • In Her Own Words: "As President of Aetna, I drive the strategic execution of Aetna’s vision to deliver access to consumer-focused, high-value healthcare to the nearly 46 million people we serve," Lynch writes on her LinkedIn page. "Through leadership of the company’s commercial, government and specialty businesses, I am focused on helping lead broader change that will make healthcare work better for everyone. As the first female President of Aetna, I am excited to help lead our 49,500 employees who are committed to providing access to more accessible, affordable and high-quality health services to our members. I believe we have an opportunity to reimagine the healthcare experience by engaging with individuals when they are well, and over the course of their lifetime. My passion for holistic health motivates me to ensure we address the full spectrum of physical, social, environmental and behavioral factors that impact an individual’s health and ultimately, their longevity and quality of life. I also work hard to raise awareness about the importance of mental health and the role it plays in a person’s physical well-being." 
  • Capitalizing on Acquisition Opportunities: CVS Health’s recent acquisition of Aetna has sparked talk of a pharmacy of the future, in which CVS’s walk-in “minute clinics” offer more services, and in a more accessible way than traditional healthcare, according to a May 2018 MarketWatch article. But more than that, CVS Health’s many locations can be leveraged to reach out into the community, where most of consumer health is determined, Chief Executive Mark Bertolini said, including supporting diet and exercise efforts and patients with chronic diseases. Bertolini, who has previously compared this goal to Apple’s Genius Bar, said CVS stores and services could become a “tent without walls,” by saying, encouraging an individual with Type 1 diabetes named Sally to exercise a certain amount and keep her hemoglobin levels below a certain point. The deal could also result in an “REI-like capability for people needing durable medical equipment,” Bertolini said, referring to the outdoor retailer that operates as a co-op, noting that the average wait time for a standard wheelchair is three to four months. “Forget the MinuteClinic. It’s not about the Minute Clinic,” Bertolini said. “It’s really about a place in the store where you can come in” and have health care solutions personalized for you. About 80% of the U.S. public is located within five miles of CVS’s nearly 10,000 stores, he said, although CVS stores aren’t quite “tents without walls” yet. There are both virtual and physical components to making consumers healthier, he said. The virtual component Aetna might have been able to do alone but the physical portion, not so much. “How many of you want to go to an Aetna store? I bet the number is zero,” he said. Aetna is also working on bringing health services into the home for seniors through its Meals on Wheels collaboration, which was announced last fall. As an example of why these efforts are important, Bertolini spoke of one patient with asthma who had to get medical help hundreds of times in 2015 because she was allergic to sweaters and blankets in her home. In response, Aetna sent help to her home, Bertolini said.
  • Pass on Drug Rebates to Consumers: In March 2018, Aetna said it would pass on drugmaker rebates directly to consumers who take the medications, to reduce costs and improve transparency around pharmaceuticals, CNBC reported. The company said it will automatically apply the discounts it negotiates with pharmaceutical manufacturers with fully insured plan members at the time of sale starting in 2019. The new policy could affect 3 million Aetna customers. "We have always believed that consumers should benefit from discounts and rebates that we negotiate with drug manufacturers," CEO Mark Bertolini said. "Going forward, we hope this additional transparency will encourage these companies to rationalize their pricing and end the practice of annual double-digit price increases."
  • Driving Down Healthcare Costs: The Aetna Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Aetna, in March 2018 joined with U.S. News & World Report to create a ranking of the healthiest communities in the United States, Hartford Courant reported.  The ranking could provide a roadmap for communities seeking to improve the health of their residents, Lynch said.  “It is important for cities to learn what other cities are doing, and hopefully be inspired to do something different to help their communities,” Lynch said, in an interview with The Courant. “This will allow a ‘best practice’ environment so you can learn from other communities.”  The initiative meshes closely with the vision for the CVS acquisition, expected to complete later in 2018.  A key component of the combination is creating expanded health clinics in CVS storefront pharmacies, emphasizing the company's connection to local communities.  The communities were measured in areas such as community vitality, economy, education, environment, food and nutrition, population health, housing, and public safety, the article said.  The communities that scored high in the rankings started to make changes years ago to get their residents thinking about healthy lifestyles; bike paths, community gardens, and nutrition programs, Lynch said.  Some of the trailblazers are wealthier, but Lynch said they can still provide a blueprint for the less well-heeled communities.  She acknowledged that communities that do not appear in the rankings often have limited funds to pursue such initiatives.  “This is where corporations have a social responsibility to engage here and I think you’re seeing more and more corporations taking a leadership role in their social responsibilities in the communities that they work in,” Lynch said. “And, if you think about companies, one of their biggest drivers of their overall costs is healthcare so they have a vested interest in being part of this initiative,” Lynch said.  Lynch said Aetna has invested in programs throughout Connecticut that promote good health.  In Hartford, the company has supported the American Heart Association's "teaching gardens" program, which educates students about the importance of good nutrition.  “This is really about changing one community at a time,” Lynch said. “Changing one person’s behavior at a time will really reduce overall health costs.”  Lynch said the merger between Aetna and CVS will address health through a community-based approach.  “The potential for this transaction is to have CVS be the go-to destination of health, similar to like how Starbucks was the go-to destination for coffee,” Lynch said.  The deal is certainly focused on creating a merged company that can survive and remain profitable in the changing healthcare industry.  Crucial to the merger is creating new and expanded versions of CVS's "Minute Clinics," walk-in medical clinics that operate in more than 1,000 pharmacies.  “The way we think about it, they can direct you to your primary care, they can direct you to social services,” Lynch said. “We’ll have all the information on those services, not only in the store, but in the community.”  The success of the vision will rely on data and technology with the mobile phone playing an important role.  “Can you imagine a world where we use data and analytics to help you improve your overall health?” Lynch said. “I call this the ‘Star Wars’ of healthcare.”  
  • Digital Transformation: CVS Health is in the process of acquiring Aetna. According to ZDNet article, the two companies are hoping to merge their way to digital transformation, becoming a healthcare and analytics juggernaut and improve health outcomes and cut healthcare costs. The rough plan is to use CVS' physical and digital footprint to provide more last mile services in healthcare. Aetna is a direct pipeline to insurance payments and the network of healthcare pros. One of the core benefits pitched by CVS CEO Larry Merlo was better use of data and analytics. Aetna has had a solid analytics architecture for years and has focused on reducing fraud. CVS is using its Minute Clinics and pharmacy benefits data and combining it with its retail touch points. By offering more services and personalization, CVS and Aetna are hoping they can better manage chronic conditions, coordinate care and reduce hospital readmissions. Merlo said,"…we will use our high touch connectivity to become the front door to healthcare for consumers. We will also improve consumer engagement by marrying physical and digital touch points with a broader use of data and analytics capabilities to inform healthcare decision-making and help patients navigate the complex healthcare system... By integrating data across our enterprise assets and through the use of predictive analytics, we will create targeted interactions with patients to promote healthy behaviors and drive adherence, and this will further improve the quality of care for patients while also resulting in healthier outcomes." Separately, Aetna CMO David Edelman spoke publicly in December 2017 about how Aetna's marketing team is deeply engaged in helping to shape Aetna's customer experience — including pioneering mobile and wearable touchpoints that innovate the very nature of the relationship between the company and its customers.
  • Remaining in Hartford: In January 2018, CVS Health decided to keep Aetna in Hartford, Connecticut, reversing Aetna’s plan announced in 2017 to move its corporate headquarters to New York City, reported WSJ. “We have no plans to relocate Aetna’s operations from Hartford,” CVS spokesman David Palombi said. The planned move was put on hold after CVS’s December 2017 announcement that it would buy Aetna for $69 billion. Aetna said at the time the merger was announced that all of its locations would be evaluated as part of its integration with CVS. Once the merger is complete, Hartford will be considered the “corporate hub” for the insurance business, rather than Aetna’s headquarters, Palombi said. CVS will maintain its corporate headquarters in Rhode Island. At the time that Aetna announced its decision to leave Hartford, the company said it chose to move to New York to tap a more robust pool of talent as it sought to reposition itself as a consumer-oriented health company. An Aetna spokesman said that the company is still reviewing which locations it will keep, and whether it will open some sort of office in New York.
  • Next Step in the Journey: In December 2017, Aetna agreed to be acquired by CVS Health for about $69 billion, WSJ reported. This deal fills an unmet need in the current healthcare system and presents a unique opportunity to redefine access to high-quality care in lower cost, local settings whether in the community, at home, or through digital tools. A combined CVS-Aetna could position itself as a formidable figure in this changing landscape. Together, the companies touch most of the basic health services that people regularly use, providing an opportunity to benefit consumers. CVS operates a chain of pharmacies and retail clinics that could be used by Aetna to provide care directly to patients, while the merged company could be better able to offer employers one-stop shopping for health insurance for their workers. The two companies emphasized their ability to transform CVS’s 10,000 pharmacy and clinic locations into community-based sites of care that would be far less expensive for patients. The two will thus create a new touch point outside the costly hospital emergency room visits that insurance companies must pay for. For Aetna, the deal marks a change in strategy after its attempted tie-up with Humana was blocked by a federal court on antitrust grounds. "This is the next step in our journey, positioning the combined company to dramatically further empower consumers. Together with CVS Health, we will better understand our members' health goals, guide them through the healthcare system and help them achieve their best health," CEO Mark Bertolini said. "Aetna has a proud tradition of continually innovating to address unmet consumer needs and providing leading products and services to the marketplace." He added, "Aetna has a talented and dedicated group of employees working to build a healthier world every day. Our combined company will be more competitive in the marketplace and accelerate progress toward achieving this mission." The companies expect $750 million in “near-term synergies” from the deal. CVS Health CEO Larry Merlo will be chief executive of the combined company. Aetna will operate as a stand-alone business unit within the larger company, led by members of the company's current management team. The transaction is expected to close in the second half of 2018.
  • Divests Life and Disability Business: Aetna in October 2017 agreed to sell its group life and disability business to Hartford Financial Services Group for $1.45 billion, the Wall Street Journal reported. Lynch said the divestiture allows “a stronger focus on our strategy of creating a personalized approach to improving member health.” Aetna said options for deploying sales proceeds include internal investments, share repurchases and debt repayment. Aetna and The Hartford will work together to support their mutual customers. In addition, the majority of the Aetna Group Insurance employees across the country who support the acquired business will transfer to Hartford. The deal includes an exclusive, multi-year collaboration in which Aetna will be offering Hartford’s group life and disability products through Aetna’s medical sales team.
  • Data Analytics to Play Key Role in Future: "Looking forward, our business model will be increasingly driven by data and the application of advanced analytics to enhance our understanding of each of our members. Interpreting the data in a way that makes it actionable to impact member behavior and help improve their health will further position Aetna as the partner of choice for people seeking to achieve their personal health ambition," Chairman and CEO Mark Bertolini told analysts on an October 2017 earnings call. "Acting on this information, we are focused on developing models that improve health outcomes, provide care closer to members' homes and local communities, and increasingly center on a deeper understanding of each individual's social determinants of health and reducing the barriers that prevent our members from improving their health. To accomplish our goals, we will work with healthcare and other non-traditional providers in local communities to source needed services for our members. Our collaboration announced in the third quarter with Meals on Wheels America speaks to the types of creative arrangements we will continue to develop. Together, we are launching a pilot program to create a best-in-class model for care coordination, integrating Meals on Wheels daily nutritious meals, social support and critical safety checks and the continuum of care required as people age. This relationship will help us better connect with our members and their homes and communities and enable us to partner with them to address the many social determinants that influence their health. By combining advanced analytics, engaging digital consumer tools and innovative local care models, we will deliver on our brand promise by continuing to enhance our service levels, increase the quality of care our members receive, reduce the rate of medical cost trend, and help our members achieve their personal health ambition.
  • Growth Model: "At our investor update meeting earlier this year, we shared with you our growth model for Aetna in which we discussed our ability to drive mid to high single-digit profitable top-line growth," Chairman and CEO Mark Bertolini told analysts in October 2017. "To achieve this level of growth, we needed to rebalance our portfolio of businesses to point towards products that have better prospects for profitable top line growth. We began this process with our ACA-compliant small group and individual Commercial products. As you know, since late 2016, we have been repositioning our ACA-compliant small group products towards alternative funding products and reducing our exposure to individual Commercial products in 2017 and outright exiting for 2018. In addition, earlier this month, we announced the sale of our U.S. group life and disability businesses which will enable us to focus capital and management attention on achieving our broader strategic objectives and our company mission of building a healthier world. Finally, a strong underwriting margin position across our core businesses has enabled us to make a number of investments that we believe will drive longer-term growth. While collectively these actions have created some near-term headwinds, they will better position us to achieve our targeted top-line growth objectives beginning in 2019." Asked by an analyst about what the company sees as its major growth drivers, with 2018 more of a year to lay the groundwork, CFO Shawn M. Guertin said, "When you think about a lot of the spending that we've been doing, especially in the second half of the year, a lot of that actually has been more pointed at 2019 growth, particularly in Medicare for example, with ongoing geographic expansion. A lot of the expenditures we're doing around analytics and technology and digital platform are also things that have a multi-year sort of growth dynamic to them. So I think when you think about 2019, we would largely think about Medicare continuing on that above-industry growth trajectory that it's been on. I would continue to think about our large group core business as sort of being in that mid-single-digits, which they've largely been on. And what will be a driver I think around 2019 actually will be Medicaid. And if we can get back on the low double-digit track of Medicaid earnings growth, then obviously we're making some investment there around sort of our procurement and re-procurement processes. But that I think will ultimately turn out to be the linchpin around sort of the degree of growth for 2019."

Key Challenges

  • Measuring Success: Lynch told Leaders back in 2016, "There are a number of ways we measure our impact on the people we serve. We start by asking ourselves, 'Are we improving access, affordability, and quality in the healthcare system?' 'Are we helping people achieve more healthy days?' Another way we measure it is by understanding the engagement level of our employees. We know that engaged employees interact with our members in a very unique and caring way, and that type of personal connection with members is critical in the new consumer marketplace. We constantly explore how we can improve the engagement and happiness of our employees to positively impact our members’ lives."
  • Differentiation: In the same interview she said, "I believe there is great opportunity to differentiate in today’s changing healthcare landscape. Healthcare is getting more local and more personal. To address the changing needs, we’re driving to consumer-centricity by putting our members and the people who count on us every day at the center of everything we do. We’re moving from a business-to-business company to a business-to-consumer company. For 163 years, we have been thinking about employers, but the world is changing. People are demanding more with the introduction of technologies and social media, and just-in-time service, so we’re focusing more on the experience consumers have with us. I sometimes call it 'healthcare on the go' – we can provide technology and information that can help individuals not only improve their day-to-day wellness, but also address more serious conditions like diabetes or cancer. This is what is differentiating us in the marketplace – it’s marrying up our consumer focus with the technology to support people on their personal healthcare journey....Our changing relationship with providers is another differentiator for us. Working together toward one common goal, improving the good health of people over time, is the foundation of the healthcare system of tomorrow. The more we can build these new relationships with providers, and the more technology we can enable our providers and consumers with, the more outcomes will improve and result in better health."
  • Addressing Opioid Epidemic: Lynch has strongly supported Aetna’s role in addressing the opioid epidemic, helping to lead the company’s development of a comprehensive strategy aimed to prevent misuse and abuse and support patients who are addicted with access to evidence-based treatments.

Biographical Highlights

  • Born circa 1963.
  • Lynch earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting from Boston College in 1984.
  • She went on to earn an MBA from Boston University’s School of Management in 1999.
  • She is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA).
  • She began her career with Ernst & Young as a CPA.
  • She held management positions at Mass Mutual Financial Services and Monarch Capital Corporation.
  • Lynch joined Cigna Corporation in 1991, and over the next 18 years held the following positions:
    • Numerous financial leadership roles
    • Financial Officer, Field Operations, Cigna HealthCare
    • Vice President, Cigna HealthCare Integrated Financial Services
    • Controller and Senior Vice President, Underwriting, Cigna HealthCare
    • Chief Underwriting Officer, Cigna HealthCare (2003 - 2004)
    • President, Cigna Specialty Companies (2004 - 2005)
    • President, Cigna Dental & Vision (2004 - 2009)
    • President, Cigna Group Insurance (2005 - 2009)
  • She was President of Magellan Health Services from 2009 to 2012.
  • Lynch joined Aetna Inc. in 2012, and has since held the following positions:
    • Executive Vice President and Head, Specialty Products (2012 - 2013)
    • EVP, Local and Regional Businesses (2013 - December 2014)
    • President, Coventry Health Care Inc. (2013 - December 2014)
    • President (January 2015 - Present)

Other Boards and Organizations

  • Member, Executive Committee, Council for Women of Boston College (CWBC),  Boston College
  • Member, Advisory Board, National Education for Assistance Dog Services (NEADS/Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans)
  • Member, Advisory Board, Ernst & Young, Boston office



Contact Information

151 Farmington Ave.
Hartford, CT, 06156
United States

860-273-0123

karen.lynch@aetna.com


Boardroom Insiders Executive Profiles and CEO Biographies

Personal Interests

  • Running
  • Marathons
  • Reading
  • Beach
  • Spinning

Other News and Interviews

Read her 2016 interview with Leaders