5 questions with Dr. Robert Hilliard Jr., Illinois state president of Harmony Health Plan

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When did you develop your passion for health care? Is it something you always knew you wanted to be involved in?

My father was the first African American physician to receive specialty training at the Bexar County Hospital, in San Antonio, Texas, and the first African American to serve as chief resident of obstetrics and gynecology at a major teaching hospital in the South during segregation. My parents were also very active in political, civil rights, social affairs and advocacy organizations throughout my childhood. They set an excellent example and laid a solid foundation around the importance and responsibility of caring for others, which created a natural extension for me to pursue a career in health care. I followed in my father’s footsteps and became a medical doctor specializing in obstetrics and gynecology. It is a legacy of service that I gladly work to continue now that I have an opportunity to positively impact hundreds of thousands of people as the president of Harmony Health Plan of Illinois.


What do your duties entail as Illinois state president of Harmony Health, a WellCare Company?
As the president of Harmony Health Plan of Illinois, I lead WellCare’s Medicare Advantage business, its subsidiary, Harmony Health Plan’s Medicaid business and growth initiatives in the state. My priority is to partner with physicians and hospitals to provide continuous improvements in quality and access to care for the nearly 220,000 low-income children and families, and elderly that we serve. Our members depend on us to help them navigate the health care system and to coordinate their care so that they have the best opportunity to get and stay healthy. Because Harmony WellCare understands that our members often have challenges accessing the basic building blocks for good health, such as proper nutrition, safe housing, clothing, transportation and utility assistance, we partner with local community-based organizations to develop and implement innovative approaches to removing these barriers.

What are your plans to address your target areas of behavioral and mental health, childhood obesity, and HIV/AIDS awareness, testing and care? 
Harmony WellCare is focused on addressing those three key health challenges as they are prevalent in the Chicagoland area: These issues are more complicated to address because they carry great negative stigma, which often makes it even more difficult for those suffering from these conditions to get access to quality care.


– HIV/AIDS – Harmony WellCare is partnering with the Aids Foundation of Chicago in June to heighten awareness around National HIV/AIDS Testing Day, which is June 27, 2015. The campaign will encourage everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 to get tested for HIV as part of their routine health care. Additionally, the initiative will promote holistic health and wellness by providing and encouraging testing for hypertension, hepatitis and diabetes.

– Behavioral/mental health – Harmony WellCare is currently collaborating with C4 Community Counseling Centers of Chicago to expand education, treatment and support around mental health. Behavioral and mental health care is more effective when implemented as part of a holistic approach to overall health and wellness.

– Childhood obesity – According to a partnership of the Cook County Department of Public Health and the Public Health Institute of Metropolitan Chicago, one in five Illinois children is obese, which is the fourth highest rate in the nation and higher than the national average.

I believe part of our responsibility is to develop practical and relevant strategies and tactics that begin to educate children early on the importance, need and know how around taking care of themselves. Through targeted partnerships with community groups and organizations, providers and leaders, we are at the beginning phase of building a holistic health and wellness initiative that will be piloted in select Chicago Public Schools. The campaign will include education and awareness around mental and physical health, along with opportunities for students and parents to receive practical lessons on shopping for the right foods on a budget, and meal preparation. Overall, we are looking to positively affect the quality of life of our members and to provide sustainable supports and services for to their communities.

Are there any big misconceptions regarding health care that you wish people were better informed about?
I think there are two misconceptions. The first is that Medicaid as a whole is less than capable of providing quality care. The other is that companies that provide Medicaid services care more about making money than delivering quality service. WellCare has been serving Medicaid populations for more than 20 years and we understand the unique needs of our members and their communities. Every day, nearly 7,000 WellCare associates are focused on delivering quality, coordinated care for our members. This is not something we do as part of a larger business, this is who we are. Health care is an ecosystem; the business only does well if our members are doing well. Our mantra is our members are our reason for being. This means, if we take care of our members and help them live better healthier lives, we do better as a business. And, if we do better as a business, we have an opportunity to care for more people.

What’s next for Dr. Hilliard?
Dr. Martin Luther King said, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhuman.” I am on a mission to make a change in the health care service landscape for the people of Illinois, and I believe we will achieve this with greater education, engagement, service and holistic care. I challenge myself and my team daily to have greater reach and impact, by looking beyond the basics to deliver more support and services for our members and the community at large.

(Photo Credit: Michael D. Thomas via Ventures Unlimited Inc.)

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