Kim Horn’s roots in Michigan are deep, having grown up near Flint and worked in the automotive industry-rich state most of her career.
But the lure of being near the nation’s capital and leading one of the region’s largest medical systems was too great to turn down, she says.
“I have long told my husband that someday I wanted to work and to live in the Washington, D.C., area,” said Horn, who became president of Kaiser Permanente of the Mid-Atlantic States in Rockville in mid-October. “It’s an exciting place to be.”
She also has worked with people from Kaiser Permanente for the past decade or so, a factor that helped land her current position. Kaiser Permanente undertook a national search for a new president after Marilyn Kawamura, who had led the health care group for the previous 12 years, announced her retirement about a year ago. Kawamura agreed to remain as president until a successor was named.
Horn’s partnerships with Kaiser began when she led Michigan health systems and her track record put her over the top of other candidates, Bernard Tyson, Kaiser’s president and COO, said in a statement. “We’re confident Kim’s experience and proven track record — and partnership with the Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group — will help strengthen the expansion of capacity and internalization efforts currently under way in the region,” he said.
Kaiser has been investing millions of dollars in new centers and upgrading services with electronic records and other systems. A 175,000-square-foot center opened in Gaithersburg in March that consolidated smaller facilities in Gaithersburg and Germantown and moved specialties like allergy and neurology from Kensington.
The company unveiled other new centers in Washington and McLean, Va., in the past year. Another center is slated to open in Halethorpe near Baltimore in April, and the Largo facility will be undergoing major upgrades as well. Kaiser serves more than 500,000 members in Maryland, Washington and Virginia, with some 82,000 patients in Montgomery County.
Influential diner conversation
Growing up in a small town, Horn remembers a local hospital administrator talking to her about his job as she ate with her parents in a diner when she was 12. She took a health care co-op job in high school and was hooked.
“I’ve known since I was young what I wanted to do,” Horn said.
After graduating from the University of Michigan with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, Horn held executive positions with various medical systems in that state: controller for Physicians Health Plan in Lansing, CFO and COO of Mercy Health Plan in Farmington Hills, and president and CEO of Priority Health in Grand Rapids.
In some 15 years leading Priority Health, Horn oversaw a fivefold increase in membership growth to some 600,000, with annual revenues growing from about $168 million to $2.3 billion.
She built Priority Health into one of the fastest-growing not-for-profit health plans in the nation, said Richard C. Breon, president and CEO of Spectrum Health, the parent of Priority Health.
Developing a plan
Probably the most important lesson she learned from one of several mentors was to develop a plan and stick with it, Horn said. One, in particular, was fond of saying, “You can't get anywhere when you don’t know where you want to go,” she said.
Along the way, Horn got involved in the lobbying group Michigan Association of Health Plans, serving as president of that organization that represented 17 health plans.
Her leaving the state is a big loss, said Rick Murdock, executive director of the Michigan Association of Health Plans.
“She is a health care visionary, focused on efficiency, innovation and quality,” Murdock said. “As president of the association, she helped drive us to bring disparate voices together toward a cohesive agenda.”
Horn knows that she will be judged on how fast she can lead membership growth at Kaiser in the local market, which is led by Aetna. She plans to work hard at marketing Kaiser’s strengths, which include doing well in industry ratings for delivery and member satisfaction.
Kaiser scored above average in 14 of 22 quality-control performance measures in a recent report by the Maryland Health Care Commission, with Cigna having the second most above-average scores with eight.
“My goal is to make health care better for our patients,” Horn said. “Health care costs too much. We want to provide people with better care at a lower cost.”
The federal health care reform law is presenting challenges for medical groups like Kaiser to fulfill the obligation of getting more people insured, she said.
“I see health care reform as a huge opportunity,” Horn said. “An increasing number of people will have the opportunity to select Kaiser Permanente.”