Q&A with Gretchen Hammer: New exchange board leader on creating connections

Gretchen Hammer, executive director of the Colorado Coalition for the Medically Underserved (CCMU), has stepped into the spotlight as interim chair of the Colorado Health Benefit Exchange Board. In her new role, Hammer will help lay the groundwork for the state’s virtual insurance marketplace, which was created under the federal health reform law. While Colorado’s legislature provided bipartisan support for the exchange, stakeholders from across the political, business and health policy spectrum are closely watching its implementation. We caught up with a very busy Hammer to ask her some questions for readers of CHI’s Analysis with Altitude blog.

About Gretchen:

Gretchen is a native of Denver, and is a graduate of East High School.  She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Biology from Colorado College in 1994. Gretchen graduated from the University of Washington School of Public Health and Community Medicine with a Master of Public Health degree in 1999.  Active in her community, Gretchen is a volunteer coach for both of her sons' soccer teams and recently completed her service as a Board Member at the Anchor Center for Blind Children.

Question: Please describe your leadership style and how you believe that style will help you as interim chair of the Colorado Health Benefit Exchange board.

Answer: I like to believe that I have a collaborative and facilitative leadership style.  It is my goal within my organization and in every project we work on to help my colleagues bring their best skills and talents to our work.  The Colorado Health Benefit Exchange Board is full of incredibly talented people.  My goal as the Interim Chair of the Board is to organize our work so that we all have a shared understanding of our task and to maximize the contribution of each Board member.

Q: What are your goals for the board?

A: The Colorado Health Benefit Exchange Board is committed to creating a health insurance exchange that will increase access, affordability and choice for individuals and small employers purchasing health insurance in Colorado.  This is our legislatively mandated task and we embrace this as our purpose.

Q: How will you measure your success?  What would you consider failure?

A:  I believe our first metric of success is to build a high functioning Board; a Board that can listen to the diverse voices in our state, tap our own collective wisdom and make good decisions about how to build this new marketplace.  Other metrics of success as we begin to sell products will include increases in access, affordability and choice and the creation of a sustainable business model for the Exchange.   I will consider our work a failure if we lose our connection to the people of the state of Colorado as we build this new marketplace.  Right now we have a large network of stakeholders sharing their perspective and tracking our work.  We need to keep and build on this level of engagement in order to be successful over time.

Q: What do you think is the most important thing for Coloradans to understand about the work being done on the exchange?

A: It is important for the people of Colorado to know that the goal of the Colorado Health Benefit Exchange is to increase the availability and affordability of health insurance.  This new marketplace will have easy-to-understand information that will let consumers make real comparisons between plans.  Through the Exchange, Coloradans will be able to find health insurance that meets their needs and budgets, giving individuals and small businesses in Colorado more control, quality choices and better protections when buying health insurance.

Q: What do you think is the most misunderstood aspect of the exchange?

A: I think the name “exchange” itself is probably the most misunderstood aspect of the Exchange among the general public.  It is a name and a concept that requires quite a bit of explaining before people can understand the vision and intent.

Q: Gov. Hickenlooper has said it’s important that the exchange not become a political issue. Is that possible?

A: At a recent town hall meeting hosted by Aurora Health Access Governor, Gov. Hickenlooper said it best himself. He said that this all really is about “trying to increase the probability that we will have meaningful, happy and joyful lives.”  There will be times when we get bogged down in the details and caught up in the political discourse, but if this is really about increasing the probability that the people of Colorado have the chance to live healthy and joyful lives, then I think that keeps us centered on the right kinds of things and allows us to engage people from across the ideological spectrum in this laudable goal.

Interview conducted by Deb Goeken, director of strategic services at the Colorado Health Institute.

Deb Goeken is a vice president at CHI.