The American public spent the past few months pondering the future of healthcare in the country. So did Carlson School students Heidi Dickson, ’17 MBA, and Alex Feng, ’18 MD-MBA—only they have a considerably more comprehensive understanding of the hypothetical healthcare landscape in a post-Obamacare United States … if and when it arrives.

The duo took second place at the annual Business School Alliance for Health Management (BAHM) case competition last month at the University of California, Berkeley. It was a satisfying ending to a three-month marathon of research, ideation, and articulation, during which Dickson and Feng leaned on the resources available through the Carlson School Medical Industry Leadership Institute (MILI). The competition culminated with 25-minute presentations at the Haas School of Business, but it began back in early January and included a 15- to 20-page paper of recommendations and a poster.

“Most case competitions, they’re like a day, a weekend, maybe a week. This was three months of research and strategizing,” says Feng. “It’s been so rewarding, because if I look back three months ago, there’s no way I knew what I know now. It’s not even just the knowledge but the networks you gain and the thought process.”

Complex case

This year’s BAHM competition asked teams to dive deep into the foggy world of healthcare reform under President Donald Trump. Each group was tasked with preparing a case study on a health system, integrated delivery network, or insurer and how it should adapt to the potential repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act and Medicare.

Dickson and Feng brought complementary backgrounds to the challenge—the former is director of health solutions innovation at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, with ambitions of “driving change in healthcare in Minnesota”; the latter is almost done with medical school, is a member of the board of directors for the Minnesota Medical Association’s political action committee, and plans to influence health policy, medical devices, and healthcare administration over the course of his career. They’re two of the roughly 25 percent of Carlson MBA students who will pursue careers in healthcare.

But they still needed a crash course on potential Obamacare alternatives. They spent the first couple weeks, as Dickson puts it, “just trying to get smart as quickly as possible” by reviewing the various proposals that had made it into the public eye, before conducting a slew of interviews.

“It was fun to almost be required to have such an acute focus on something that was so important and so timely.”

- Heidi Dickson, ’17 MBA

The MILI network

They cold-called former CEOs of healthcare companies and connected with someone at Morning Consult, a Washington, D.C.-based media and research company. Dickson checked with coworkers at Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

And they turned to the subject-matter experts who doubled as their team advisors: Professor Stephen Parente, the director of the Carlson School Medical Industry Leadership Institute (MILI) and a member of the Congressional Budget Office's Panel of Health Advisors; Michael Finch, director of the MILI Valuation Lab and a former UnitedHealth Group research program director who studies the cost, quality, and financing of healthcare in public and private markets; and Dr. Archelle Georgiou, a physician, former UnitedHealth Group executive, and president of a healthcare-focused consulting firm. Finch and Georgiou are both MILI executives in residence.

“I was shocked by the amount of support and access to people and the network we could call on through MILI,” says Dickson, who is finishing up the Carlson Part-Time MBA Program.

Superb solution

With a solid handle on potential policy changes and a handful of conclusions about the implications of those changes for the market, Dickson and Feng built their case around UnitedHealthcare (UHC), a Minnesota-based company with a major hand in the national healthcare industry. They determined care models and network configuration were two areas that could significantly impact cost and consumer experience, so they proposed a new primary care model for all of UHC’s lines of business.

Their exhaustive preparation paid off in Berkeley, where they finished second to Harvard and took home a $5,000 check.

“When we were presenting, not only were the teams surprised, but even the judges were able to glean nuggets from our research, which I think really showed the success that we’ve had,” says Feng, adding that a judge approached him and Dickson at the closing reception to tell them one of their presentation slides was the most insightful idea he saw all weekend—and that included the previous day’s Business of Healthcare Conference.

“There was a lot of trust in our partnership, which I think was key.”

- Alex Feng, ’18 MD-MBA

According to Parente, Carlson MBA students have the best record of any school in the BAHM case competition since the school began competing in 2013.

“The success is testament to the hard work of not only the students but the faculty, industry partners, and network of alumni that tirelessly help prep each year’s team,” says Parente, recognizing the mentoring of Finch, Georgiou, and fellow MILI Executive in Residence Susan Alpert. “I’m blown away by the scale, creativity, and ambition of the Medical Industry Leadership Institute community.”