CEO Mark Bertolini: Aetna, Humana starting early to align cultures

He expects some conflict, but says it helps that insurers' values are similar
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Recognizing that cultural cohesion can make or break a merger, Aetna and Humana are being proactive about aligning the two companies' cultures while their deal awaits regulatory approval, according to Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini.

Speaking this week at the Barclays Global Healthcare Conference, Bertolini said Aetna has struggled to integrate corporate cultures during past acquisitions, though he's confident Aetna and Humana can overcome those challenges by addressing them early, Louisville Business First reports.

"There will be storming and there will be noise--that's just the nature of things, but if we make this investment now, we think that's a good thing," he said.

To ensure the insurers' integration goes smoothly, Aetna has hired Rick Jelinek, the former CEO of UnitedHealth subsidiary OptumHealth, to lead the transition and report directly to Bertolini, according to the article.

It also helped that Humana had already investigated how its culture and strategy aligned with other potential merger partners while the big five insurers eyed deals with one another, Bertolini said. Humana felt Aetna's culture most closely matched its own, he added, because both companies value self-governance and encourage employee engagement and trust.

Aetna also values how well Humana has been able to adapt to the changes inherent in healthcare reform, which mean insurers now must focus on managing risk and promoting better health outcomes, Bertolini has said. Humana's strong presence in the booming Medicare Advantage market also made it a key acquisition target.

Even with well-aligned cultures, though, merging insurers that focus on different lines of business can struggle to achieve immediate economies of scale, as they often must maintain separate infrastructure and services to serve different segments of the population, Steven Shill, national leader of the BDO Center for Healthcare Excellence & Innovation, previously told FierceHealthPayer.

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