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New UnitedHealthcare of Illinois CEO Returns to Where it All Started

When Tom Kunst accepted the position to serve as the CEO of the Illinois and northwest Indiana health plan, it was a chance to come full circle in his professional career with UnitedHealthcare.

He began his career with UnitedHealthcare in 1994 in the Chicago market and has held a variety of increasing roles in sales and account management ever since. Prior to his current role, Tom was the regional vice president for the central region, where his responsibilities included overall sales and account management strategies for both small businesses and larger employee groups. While a member of the Wisconsin health plan from 2006-2017, Tom championed a number of strategies to grow the business and implement new products and services. 

Recently, Tom answered several questions related to his new role.

What are your responsibilities in this role?   

My responsibilities include overseeing the overall sales, product, Economic Healthcare Value (EHCV), and network solutions to meet the growth agenda for the Illinois market. 

The CEO role has evolved over the years at UnitedHealthcare. Today, CEOs spend a lot more time on network and affordability strategies compared to the past, which historically was focused more on sales and account management. The affordability agenda is critical as we hear from customers and members about the high cost of health care through premiums, higher deductibles, coinsurance, etc. Helping improve the efficiency and performance of our network is critical. This is why today’s CEOs are more focused on network.

What are your goals in this position?   

First and foremost — there is a significant growth opportunity in Illinois. We need to continue to bring forward innovations for our employers, members and providers. UnitedHealth Group has tremendous assets to offer the market, especially within the provider community. Collaboration with our providers will be critical. How can we help them with data to improve their efficiencies and care to our mutual members? Also, we need to explore different payment options and move away from fee for service.

What is the biggest health problem facing the state?  

Illinois, like other states, struggles with chronic illnesses, many of which are avoidable or can be managed. I think about obesity and all of the downstream impacts on health: diabetes, orthopedics, heart, behavioral, not to mention productivity. It has a significant impact for employers and members alike. Tools like Motion, for example, are promising in that we all walk. Motion provides a pathway to healthier living.    

What is your managing style?  

I do my best to listen and hear other’s perspectives. I try to be curious and ask a lot of questions. This business has gotten more complex, the speed of change around us is accelerating and we have non-traditional competitors entering parts of the business. I believe everyone has ideas around improving how we serve our customers (members, employers, providers, etc.). Fostering collaboration and the willingness to test new ideas from the broader team is critical to the business.  

What has impressed you about UnitedHealthcare since taking over as CEO in Illinois? 

I’ve been impressed with the team in Illinois. There are many long-tenured employees that have developed very strong bonds with their brokers and employers. They have also been a great resource to our new employees. Their willingness to step in and help has been great. I’ve heard consistently from our broker partners that UnitedHealthcare has the best, most knowledgeable team they work with. I’m fortunate to join this team.

What is the most recent book you read and why?  

Thinking Fast and Slow,” by Daniel Kahneman. It’s an interesting read on influences in how people make decisions, fast decisions through intuition, emotion, etc. vs. slow, deliberative, logical, etc., and how bias, influence and overconfidence play into our decisions.

What do you do in your spare time away from the office?  

My two sons are very active in sports (baseball, swimming, soccer, etc.). My wife and I are usually going in different directions as a result. It’s tough, but it’s awesome when you see them competing. When I get a chance, I do enjoy golf. It just doesn’t happen too often.

Favorite spot for lunch or dinner in Chicago?  

Gibson’s Italiano is one of my favorites. Great food and awesome views!

Kunst holds bachelor’s degrees in marketing and communications from Bradley University. He completed an executive development program with Stanford Graduate School of Business in 2017.