From Air Force Officer to Healthcare Strategist

August 2016
Amy Aukema
Amy Aukema

Amy Aukema is the first to admit she took an unusual career path from the Air Force Academy. While most academy graduates become pilots, she won a scholarship to Harvard's Kennedy School for a master's degree in public policy. From there, she went to Washington D.C. and became a special assistant to the Deputy Secretary of Defense. "The experience has served me throughout my career, seeing how billion-dollar decisions get made up close."

Later, Aukema was a Section Commander at Bolling Air Force Base, where she managed squadron disciplinary and administrative issues, and counseled personnel on personal, financial, and professional matters. It was a different kind of role, but a valuable one.

At MITRE, she must use strategic and tactical thinking to understand large, complex systems. "The Air Force gave me the skills to do both."

Public Service Is a Priority

After leaving the Air Force, Aukema was a consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers and IBM and traveled worldwide, often for military clients. But after six years, she recognized she couldn’t fulfill her commitment to public service at a for-profit company. So she came to MITRE.

"I could feed my drive and passion for public service here. We're right on the cutting edge, addressing big, national problems."

Aukema applies her public policy and systems engineering expertise to projects for the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). Her work supports MITRE's commitment to helping our government sponsors address large, complex challenges by providing expertise in technology, people, and processes to guide their strategies and transformation.

She is particularly proud of her work for the Affordable Care Act (ACA). She worked with the IRS executive team responsible for envisioning, designing, planning, and engineering the IRS ACA solution. Just months after the law was signed, Aukema led a team to develop an initial concept of operations for how the new health insurance exchanges would operate. In addition, she directed a team to design business processes so the IRS could implement the ACA legislative requirements, including the health premium tax credit and penalties for not having health insurance.

Paying for Quality Rather than Quantity of Care

Aukema now supports the CMS Alliance to Modernize Healthcare (CAMH), a MITRE-operated federally funded research and development center. CAMH's mission is to make strategic and lasting improvements to America's healthcare system.

One of the key tenets of healthcare reform is to give healthcare providers incentives for better quality care, rather than quantity of care. To promote this goal, President Obama introduced the Health Care Payment Learning and Action Network (LAN) in March 2015.

The LAN is a public-private partnership. It's working to align private health plans, purchasers, state payers, health care providers, consumer and patient groups, and CMS to speed the transition from traditional fee-for-service payment methods to new population-based payment models linked to quality. These new models support wiser use of resources to achieve better outcomes.

"Payment is a huge incentive that drives behavior," Aukema says. "It affects how healthcare leaders think and act. The government funds about 50 percent of the healthcare payments in the country. You can't move forward without the private sector of health care providers and insurance payers talking with the government and each other. That's where the LAN comes in."

MITRE Values Military Skills

Aukema is a student again. Part time, she's seeking her master's degree at Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health.

"I came to MITRE with defense experience, but I’ve been able to apply my skills to many agencies. And when I decided to pivot my professional career to improving the health system, I was able to contribute to key projects like the LAN and continue my education."

Aukema may have taken a unique career path out of the Air Force Academy. But when it comes to MITRE, she believes many ex-military personnel will feel at home here.

"Being adaptable, grounded, and realistic—and understanding leadership and good decision-making—these skills are as valuable at MITRE as they are in the military."

—by Bill Eidson

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