In a visit to Bridgewater, former Aetna CEO and current advisor to Bridgewater Mark Bertolini shared how the effect of two traumatic medical events influenced what he thinks about the value of investing in people and employees, and his vision for the future of health care in the United States.
Bertolini’s son is a cancer survivor and Bertolini himself survived a skiing incident that resulted in him becoming a quadriplegic temporarily. He described these experiences as profound, and acknowledged that because of these events, he became aware of and disheartened by certain processes within the US healthcare system.
Bertolini described his and his son’s experiences being treated by doctors as analogous to a car being restored by mechanics: “The healthcare system, to me, was broken and badly broken. It didn’t cure people, it fixed warranty repairs…they don’t really fix the person.” The indignation he felt drove him to change how he cared for his employees at Aetna as well as the 35+ million people who depend on Aetna for health insurance. At his company, he introduced new benefits like a higher minimum wage, pet therapy, tuition reimbursement, and more, resulting in lowered stress and higher life satisfaction for his employees. For Aetna subscribers, Bertolini began insuring yoga, meditation, and other forms of alternative medicine.
He argued that our country should take similar steps in transforming how we invest in human capital, explaining, “if we can fix people’s health, it’s the first and most important step of keeping people out and away from poverty.” One approach he suggested was building community-based sustainability programs that provide after-school activities such as gardening and tutoring for students, and healthy meals for underserved families. “Community sustainability is really important, and that’s going to save our economy and our nation,” he said.
Bertolini admitted to our audience that making investments in human capital can seem intimidating when organizations only examine quantitative data. However, when companies overlay quantitative data with qualitative data, the outcome is frequently a positive return on investment for employers and employees. “We should be willing to put financial capital at risk to make our human capital better.”