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Women In Wellness: Lindy Hinman of Cigna Medicare Advantage Market on the Five Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Help Support People’s Journey Towards Better Wellbeing

Tap into what you are truly passionate about to guide your career decisions. Be honest about what makes you excited and if you don’t know, spend time working with a mentor or coach to support you in that evaluation. Check in and repeat this exercise frequently, as we all continue to evolve over the course of our careers.

As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lindy Hinman, Cigna Medicare Advantage Market President, Mountain States.

Lindy Hinman is the Cigna Medicare Advantage Market President, overseeing the Colorado, Utah and New Mexico markets. In this role, she is responsible for delivering simple, predictable and affordable health care to seniors, in alignment with Cigna’s mission. Ms. Hinman holds a Master of Science degree in Health Services Administration from the University of Michigan and received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Washington University in St. Louis.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

My career has always been rooted in government health care programs and their impact on the private market. Originally, I was interested in biosciences. My father is a biochemist and my mother is a nurse. As I went along in my studies as an undergraduate, I started to realize I was really interested in health care, but not from the traditional delivery perspective. I was more intrigued by the history of American health care delivery system and how major systems influence that care. I started thinking about how federal and state governments influence health care, how the private market influences health care, and the influence that both public and private markets have in driving innovation in this space.

This realization led me to pursue a degree in public health from the University of Michigan. While I wasn’t totally sure of my path at the time, my graduate program started to illuminate how diverse a career in health care could be and the direct influence that public policy has in shaping our health care system. At the end of graduate school, I was accepted into the Presidential Management Fellows Program (PMF). The PMF is a program designed to attract and cultivate government leaders. I spent four years in the federal government, with most of my time at the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). It was there that I learned about Medicare, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the regulatory decision-making process. This set the foundation for my career as I continued to build expertise and understanding of government programs. I was at OMB when the Medicare Modernization Act (MMA) passed, which added the prescription drug program to Medicare. As I transitioned from the federal government into the private sector, I helped private companies navigate the complexities of the MMA, including operational and financial requirements. It was this transition that cemented my understanding of the influence the public sector has on the private market. Policy changes can impact all areas of health care including coverage, access, payment, care delivery and consumer choice.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?

One of the most interesting experiences in my career was helping to start up Colorado’s health insurance marketplace (Connect for Health Colorado), which was established through the Affordable Care Act. Colorado was only one of a few states that determined to establish its own marketplace. Timelines were very compressed with significant public attention. There were pressing and often competing priorities, including setting up a functional user platform, a call center, sales support and operational protocols. That experience was eye-opening — not just due to the immense pressures that we were under, but more importantly, because of the team that worked together to make it work. It was clear that we were all passionate, committed and willing to do what it took. We cared deeply about the mission, and that belief in the organization and each other got us across the finish line. In the end, we established one of the few successful state-based marketplaces in the country. I’m proud to say it still offers individuals and families in Colorado access to coverage to this day.

The lesson I learned from that experience is that when you have a team that is passionate and aligned to the mission, anything is achievable.

Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Very early in my career, I made a math error on an important document. Thankfully, it was caught before it became a problem. For some period of time I was concerned my mistake would result in a lack of confidence in my abilities on the part of my manager, my peers and myself. That experience stayed with me.

I learned three very important lessons from this experience:

The first is that relying on others is a sign of strength, not weakness. Ask for support from colleagues or leadership when you need help. This is not always easy, particularly when you’re building your career and reputation, but it’s essential to success.

The second is to prioritize reviewing your work thoroughly (often multiple times). Spend the time necessary to make sure your work product is high quality. This includes emails. Rushing through deliverables is tempting given how much we balance every day but can result in mistakes and, ultimately, necessitate re-work.

The third is to lead with empathy. Recognize that you, your peers, your staff and your managers make mistakes. As a leader, I learned to give immediate and constructive feedback but also demonstrate grace and spend the time understanding how to support each person in the right way. We need to trust in our mistakes because they help us grow and become better professionals.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful toward who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Someone who I look to as a trusted advisor and a mentor throughout my career is Dan Mendelson, the founder and former CEO of Avalere Health. He hired me right after the Medicare Modernization Act was passed to help health care companies develop strategies to capitalize on opportunities created by the new law. Early on, Dan saw my potential and gave me opportunities that were well beyond my level of experience at the time. He invested in my public speaking skills, gave me opportunities to work with important clients and pushed me to go further and faster than I would on my own. The foundation that I built at Avalere launched me forward into my career. To this day, I can pick up the phone and know Dan will give me incredibly thoughtful and supportive advice. He knows me very well at this stage of my life, including what works and what doesn’t work for my future. He embodies all the leadership characteristics I truly value. I am grateful for his guidance over the course of my career.

Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?

At Cigna, my focus is on seniors who rely on us as a valued and trusted partner for their health services and wellness. We constantly strive to engage with our customers at the grassroots level in ways that are important to them.

Our approach is to meet seniors where they are. The world is shifting rapidly in how seniors are getting access to care, with an increased focus on telehealth and social media platforms that have sped up our ability to engage with this population. This has been amplified since the onset of COVID-19. In particular, social isolation became a bigger problem for seniors during the pandemic as many are living alone and sheltering in place and lacking a human touch.

To support physical health and mental health, Cigna works with our customers closely to create a clear and understandable care plan. This includes identifying the right doctors, helping them with appointments (whether in-person or through digital/telehealth options), scheduling preventive wellness visits and ensuring access to behavioral and mental health services as needed. We have a cross-functional team, including pharmacy, quality and care management. This team coordinates and communicates frequently (in some cases daily) to ensure our customers are getting what they need.

Beyond our care plan, we engage our customers to ask questions that extend beyond the traditional medical setting. We discuss loneliness and feelings of isolation in addition to other needs such as food, housing and transportation. Our teams understand that senior’s physical and mental health is inextricably linked to their individual environment and experiences. We take the time to listen and understand the issues a customer may be facing to ensure that our solutions are comprehensive and appropriate for that individual’s situation.

In addition to individualized customer outreach, planning and support, we understand the importance in investing in community initiatives to better connect Cigna employees and the senior community. This is critical as it opens a window for our team to see and understand some of the obstacles that seniors face more broadly. Through service to our communities, we can identify areas of opportunity and innovate as a result. Recently, the Colorado Gerontology Society asked Cigna to help with social isolation particularly in nursing homes. As a result of that collaboration, Cigna donated 100 iPads to seniors so they could connect with family and friends during the pandemic. We also sent thousands of handwritten cards to seniors living in nursing homes, called around 150,000 of our seniors to check in on their well-being and offered support including singing songs, reading poems and even celebrating birthdays. This was such a fun and rewarding experience for our team and our customers.

Improving the physical health and emotional well-being of our customers doesn’t stop at the individual level. Cigna empowers its employees to give back to communities through volunteerism and service. This connects us more closely to our customers, the issues they are facing and provides a platform to make change.

Can you share your top “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.

Some stress is normal. But too much stress can negatively affect our body and mind, and can even lead to chronic illness. I believe it’s important to step away. Everyone needs to have “me time” to give yourself space for activities that you really enjoy. And you have to be deliberate about making that time. It is also important to model this behavior for family, friends and colleagues and supporting them in their choices to manage stress and stay healthy.

There are four simple steps I follow to manage my own mental health and wellness and help me focus on more positive outcomes every day. Cigna actually created a handy acronym for this, with the steps using the letters in the word “PLAN” so it’s easy to remember: A period of time to unwind, a location to de-stress, an activity to enjoy and the name of someone to talk to. Using the “PLAN” guide, some lifestyle tweaks that work for me to support my own journey toward better well-being include:

  1. Period of Time. Before the sun sets, I like to take a walk with my dogs to clear my mind and reconnect with the natural environment.
  2. Location. I love to be outside and I am fortunate to have hiking trails in close proximity. Anywhere I can be outside with my animals is a perfect location to de-stress.
  3. Activity. I really enjoy horseback riding and surrounding myself with animals who force me to be present. It brings out the kid in me.
  4. Name. My husband is the person that I turn to when I need to talk about my stress and get help identifying how to manage it.

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?

My mission in my role at Cigna is to promote a whole-person population health and wellness approach for our seniors. One way we do that is by working to improve the connectivity between behavioral health and physical health.

As mentioned previously, creating access to behavioral and mental health services is more important than ever. We are seeing an increase in the demand for these services at a national scale. Many of our customers are filling prescription drugs to address anxiety, depression and insomnia for the first time. We’ve also seen an increase in mental health provider visits and an increase in our behavioral health clinical programs.

To tackle these issues head-on, we work to proactively identify and screen during annual primary care health visits, reach out and engage with those at risk and coordinate a personalized treatment plan with local support and community resources. For example, our depression disease management program supports an integrated coordination of care approach including interacting with the customer’s primary care physician, helping customers understand the disease, manage symptoms, comply with medications, and seek higher levels of care when needed. The program includes bi-weekly telephone calls by a behavioral health disease management specialist, written educational materials, a medication log and symptom diary to assist with compliance and referral to a licensed behavioral health professional as needed.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

The 5 things I wish someone would have told me before I started in my career are:

  1. Ask the question no one else asks because they’re afraid it’s too simple or obvious. I would guarantee that nine times out of 10, it helps clarify something that’s critical for everyone in the room to know.
  2. Seek 360-degree feedback often. This is particularly important as you take on roles with increasing management responsibilities. Your staff need to feel comfortable being honest with you, so creating an environment that values and welcomes that honesty is key.
  3. Be kind and be humble. Don’t pretend you know everything, because no one does. Create a supportive work environment where everyone’s opinion is valued. I believe those leaders who are kind and humble are the ones who build teams that drive sustainable results.
  4. Know the difference between leadership and management and where you are comfortable. If you aspire to leadership, get comfortable with not allowing your calendar and to-do list to dictate how you use all of your time so you can invest time in thinking strategically for the organization more broadly.
  5. Tap into what you are truly passionate about to guide your career decisions. Be honest about what makes you excited and if you don’t know, spend time working with a mentor or coach to support you in that evaluation. Check in and repeat this exercise frequently, as we all continue to evolve over the course of our careers.

Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?

Can I choose more than one? I am actually passionate about most of these topics, but if I had to pick one it would be mental health as the cause dearest to me, both personally and professionally. My mother was a mental health nurse, so I became familiar at a very young age with the reality of significant mental health issues, particularly in an inpatient setting. Given that exposure, I have always viewed mental health as a critical aspect of health care, seeing how debilitating it can be if not managed properly. In fact, we know that over half of mental health issues are encountered in the physician’s office. Reaching out for help is the first step.

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