Ina Fried

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Aetna’s CEO on Obamacare, Emerging Technology and Why Half Its Employees Work From Home (Interview)

Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini is a key participant in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare. He’s also been vocal in pointing out its shortcomings.

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The well-documented website challenges are a big problem, clearly.

“It’s disappointing that something like this would potentially bring the whole thing down,” Bertolini said in an interview after his appearance at the Techonomy conference near Tucson, Ariz. “This should be the straightforward stuff. This is not rocket science.”

But another key challenge, he said, is the financial reality of the legislation, which requires policies to cover at least 60 percent of health-care costs, whereas the average individual policy today covers only 50 percent. The law also changes the types of demographic categories on which insurers can impose different rates.

Those changes made easily predictable the kinds of price hikes and cancellation notices that have been making headlines. That said, Bertolini said he finds himself in a challenging spot.

“We’ve been very careful to be objective, prudent and supportive of getting everyone insured,” he said. “It’s been a delicate balance between the investor base and the political machine on both sides of the aisle.”

Ultimately, Bertolini expects the political rhetoric to give way to some needed tweaks to Obamacare.

“We are going to see some changes happen to the Affordable Care Act that I think will improve it,” he said. “I think that’s the next shoe to drop.”

Aetna has been changing its business in lots of ways, including trying to see parts of its core insurance business can be spun out and used in other parts of the health-care industry.

One of the other big changes at the 163-year-old company is encouraging employees to work from home. The effort began in 1996, Bertolini said, when the Olympics came to Atlanta.

“We had people there, and we couldn’t get them downtown,” Bertolini said.

So the company started installing desktop computers in workers’ homes, connected to Aetna’s systems via a virtual private network. These days, 47 percent of the company’s workforce telecommutes.

The main requirement is that employees have to be 20 percent more productive and have 100 percent quality in their work. Oh, yeah, and no slamming doors, barking dogs or screaming kids.

Federal overtime rules still limit the work day to eight hours, but Bertolini said workers can pick and choose which hours they work, breaking up their day to spend time with kids, have a side job, or volunteer. It’s part of what Bertolini said is likely to be a radical transformation of what was once a standard workday.

“That will be the ultimate expression of work,” Bertolini said.

The downside: Workers who telecommute tend to gain weight, since they are so close to the fridge. Already high obesity rates are a few points higher among those who work from home, he said. “It’s a concern.”


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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald