Janet Meyer 1985

bachelor of science '85

Meyer works to transform health care in Oregon

Janet Meyer, BS PPPM '85, serves as chief executive officer of Health Share of Oregon, the state's largest coordinated care organization. "It's worth getting up in the morning when you know you're helping people's lives that are tough," she says. Meyer aims to move health care transformation forward and to improve outcomes for Health Share's 165,000 Medicaid members. The big goal is to save Oregon money in the long run by promoting preventive care, a potential savings of $3 billion in the next five years. "Providers are paid for treating illness," Meyer says, "not for preventing it." Meyer oversees the staff that finds solutions to these problems. "There's so much going on in our clients' lives – I can apply my skills to something that really matters. I could have done a lot of things with my brain, but my heart is in this work."

Janet Meyer
Above: Janet Meyer, CEO of Health Share of Oregon, says her dream job work

Q: What made you want to pursue a career in health care policy?

A: I grew up in a rural area, and my family wasn't wealthy. I felt that we could improve society with health care. I'm driven by the helpless population out there, who are often misunderstood. It's worth getting up in the morning when you know you're helping people's lives that are tough.

Poverty in America is traumatic. There's so much going on in our clients' lives – I can apply my skills to something that really matters. I could have done a lot of things with my brain, but my heart is in this work.

Q: How did your time at UO help you to succeed in your career?

A: At the UO I really was able to do a deep dive and learn all about the government. What does urban planning really mean? How has it impacted society? How does it impact people's health status? All of these different players have a role in the health system. By learning about these different players in the Planning, Public Policy and Management program, it's made me more effective at my job.

I have never worked in the government and never intended to. But studying it has made me more successful than if I hadn't. I thought it was brilliant it served me well.

Q: Why should students consider studying social and health policy?

A: Because you will never be bored. Your career will always be changing and you will always be challenged to learn new things and stay current. To evolve, you have to constantly be learning, adapting, and welcoming new ideas that you may not have considered earlier.

We're constantly challenged to look at things differently. There are things we thought worked 20 years ago that we've learned don't work at all. We may not be a "perfection factory," but we need to improve every day. And no matter what we do, I remind people that there are human beings involved in our work.

Q: How would you describe Health Share of Oregon?

A: Health Share is an integrated community delivery system with a mission of achieving the "triple aim" of better care, better health, and lower costs. Today, services such as mental and physical health care are usually offered separately, in fragmented and uncoordinated ways, so that members have gaps in their care.

Providers are paid for treating illness, not for preventing it. Members with chronic conditions don't get services that will keep them healthy and help them avoid unnecessary hospitalizations or emergency care. The potential cost savings for Oregon are substantial — more than $3 billion over the next five years — and will ensure that our most vulnerable citizens maintain coverage.

Q: What specific projects are you currently working on?

A: We are focusing on developing strategies to meet (statewide measures used to determine whether coordinated care organizations are effectively and adequately improving care). For example, we are trying to increase the rate at which adolescents go to the doctor and get a pediatric exam. Many adolescents contact the healthcare system through Planned Parenthood. Could we get adolescents to go to a screening exam at the same time? We meet them in their environment. We want them to come and talk to a health care provider and learn to live a healthy lifestyle.

Oh, and bending the cost curve so the state can keep the $1.9 billion Governor Kitzhaber secured for us from the feds. Bending the cost curve means we are going to improve health care at a lower cost. And we can't just take money from the doctors; we can reduce the number of unnecessary emergency room visits. People go there for a head cold, they go for a toothache. Instead of spending a couple thousand on an emergency room visit, can we get that patient to go to a primary care visit?

Q: What are you most proud of professionally?

A: The last ten plus years working with Oregon Medicaid and trying to contribute to the greater good for this vulnerable population. I've kept a network of providers together. We've managed through budget cuts; it's a dynamic market to be in. Those of us who work in Medicaid, we have to deal with providers who don't always want to care for our patients. We always say that 'we swim in the deep end of the pool.' It's not easy work to do.

Q: Is your career what you expected it would be while a student, or did you wind up taking a different direction?

A: Obviously, when you are a student, what you expect and what you dream is not necessarily the same thing. My dream job was to work in a leadership role in health care to help transform the system, particularly for vulnerable populations (such as Medicare and Medicaid) so this is pretty much my dream job.

Q: What would you suggest current students do to get the most benefit from their time at UO?

A: Take the time to really understand your course of study at a very fundamental level. I still use things I learned at Oregon every day in my work because I was lucky enough to learn the basics upon which you can build your career. The basics never go out of style.

Q: What exactly do you mean by "very fundamental level"?  Can you give an example?

A: Take micro and macroeconomics. It may not be relevant to you in college but those are the concepts you'll use over and over again in this business. When I was an undergraduate, I gained a real understanding of the government branches. I know it sounds really corny for young people, but if you don't nail the basics, you're going to be at a disadvantage. They're called fundamentals for a reason.

Q: What types of students should pursue a career like yours?

A: It helps to have passion. That is the defining character trait of every successful person in my industry. Part of passion is compassion. If you're the type of person who can get excited about improving our community, you should go for it! You have to be willing to stand for something.


This story was published as part of the 100 Stories collection, compiled to celebrate our 2014 centennial and recognize the achievements and contributions of our alumni worldwide. View the entire 100 Stories archive on the College of Design website.