Karena Weikel has loved math for as long as she can remember. But when her high school guidance counselor suggested she become a math teacher, she couldn’t envision it for her career.
“I had a speech problem where I had trouble saying words with the letter ‘r’ in them,” Weikel explains. “So saying ‘four’ was a problem for me, and as math teacher, I would be saying that a lot. I didn’t think I had any future working in mathematics even though that was my passion.”
After seeing a speech pathologist in college, Weikel began to reevaluate her options. Instead of math education, however, she found her way to actuarial science. Some twenty years later, she is senior vice president of advanced analytics and chief actuary at Priority Health, a Michigan-based health plan. As has been the case throughout her career, she takes pride in applying mathematics and technology to meet the needs of the business, while also seeking to address the affordability of healthcare for Priority Health members.
Weikel graduated from Bloomsburg University with degrees in mathematics and secondary education before entering the workforce as an actuarial support analyst in a healthcare setting. “I love bringing together mathematics and technology for a business purpose, and healthcare has been a natural fit for me. I have seen the need throughout our country and how critical health insurance is, so that’s where I focus on making a difference,” she says.
Weikel studied for actuarial exams in her free time but made sure to prioritize her job and family. “I never wanted to be at a point where I looked back and felt like I had missed an opportunity to be the kind of mom I wanted to be to my two boys,” she says. “I’ve always had such support from my husband, my children, and my friends and family. They’ve all helped me conquer any difficulties I encountered as a woman in this profession.”
Weikel also connected with female role models to ask for advice on navigating work and motherhood––and proved herself to be more than up for the challenge. “I advanced very quickly in my career to become a leader, and I think it had to do with my teaching degree. I love to share my knowledge so others can grow and change our world in healthcare,” she says.
In addition to knowledge, Weikel is passionate about affordable healthcare. Together, those passions have driven her work as an actuary and a leader for the past two decades, during which time she has strived to innovate and transform healthcare from within. She has pushed for greater proactivity as well as the incorporation of technology, data, and analytics––a toolkit that supplies her with the hard facts needed to make tough calls and solve problems.
Along the way, Weikel has gained experience leading teams of analysts, actuaries, economists, data scientists, coders, underwriters, and healthcare knowledge experts. She focuses on building relationships with her team members by getting to know them, both professionally and personally. “Relationships are key,” she explains. “You need to be honest, authentic, and trusting to bring out those relationships. It really bonds people together when you’re able to open up to one another.” She also shares her experiences in transformational work, where one key to success is providing a transparent vision.
Weikel dedicates herself to helping her teams reach their full potential. She hopes that her passion inspires them to achieve their own ambitions, which they discuss during frequent one-on-ones. “It’s about really hearing what somebody says,” Weikel says of those conversations. “Listening to their ideas and aspirations, learning what makes them happy, and then setting them up for success.”
Weikel also connects with her team by having individual rounding and small team listening tours. She believes that her relationships with her teams and others throughout the industry have led to her career success. “I’ve been truly honored by working with such great people throughout my career,” she says.
Weikel’s courage in sharing her experience matches the fierceness of her belief in effecting change. By bringing metrics to the forefront, she has moved one step closer to aligning healthcare providers and payers around the common goal of reducing member costs while maintaining the highest quality of care. She believes that providers and payers must collaborate, innovate, and build strong relationships so that members and patients can have the best health outcomes. It’s been her mission since day one, and she remains as committed to it as ever.
“My passion each day is looking for ways to make healthcare more affordable. I believe in making data more actionable and a value-driven approach to analytics. I won’t let myself get comfortable or stop growing,” says Weikel, adding, “I will remain inquisitive and commit myself to being a lifelong learner so one day our overall healthcare affordability problem will be solved.”