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  • Alumni

McMurry Alumnus Front and Center on TRANSFORMING Healthcare

By Wendy Taylor

Austin Pittman

        

It should come as no surprise to those who knew Austin Pittman ’91 when he was at McMurry University that he stands at the center of one of the most monumental issues Americans face today.

The high-energy student, who balanced academics, a healthcare night-shift, student government, football and more, now helps shape the way we look at healthcare access and outcomes in this country. It’s about helping people live healthier lives and to make the health system work better for everyone.

“I don’t sleep – still,” says Pittman, CEO of United Healthcare Community and State, a $33 billion division of United Health Group. “I like being busy. I like being productive. That’s another thing McMurry teaches is that it’s not enough to go through this life and simply show up, do your job and collect your paycheck. I think we’re called to be – and I know I am – as productive of a member of this society as we can.”  

Today, Pittman’s group serves nearly six million people who are a mix of economically disadvantaged, medically underserved and those living with a disability or complex health need within 24 states and Washington D.C. Throughout those areas, they manage a combination of more than 70 different public health programs, including Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and Special Needs Plans (SNP).

This integrated delivery system model looks beyond the typical setting of the hospital or clinic, by expanding care to also look at the social determinants of health. By holistically considering everything from housing to proper refrigeration for insulin storage and household environment challenges for asthma patients, Pittman and his team work to decrease healthcare costs by working through all aspects of patients’ lives. Their goal remains elevating this small group, which contributes to a high percentage of overall healthcare costs, to improved health and independence, while avoiding greater stressors and higher costs within the healthcare system, such as emergency or long-term, institutional-living care.

“Being a fifth-generation Texan, I like to think of us as being fiercely independent, fiercely protective of our communities and the people in those communities,” Pittman said. “That’s exactly what this model does.”

Pittman takes pride in the fact that many who might not have the ability to live independently can do so under this program. Others who might be down on their luck often find a way out to better health and a more productive outcome. However, he also notes that heading such an innovative approach, especially with the national spotlight on healthcare, comes with a heavy dose of responsibility. It’s one he feels he shoulders easier due to the multidisciplinary approach he encountered at McMurry.

As a student, Pittman blended liberal arts, sociology and other subjects with his business education. He credits that unusual mix as an asset, as he looks at healthcare not simply as a product or a government program but an entity that affects real people, with real names and often really serious medical conditions.

Today as a McMurry Board of Trustees member and former chair, he sees this interdisciplinary blend as key when looking at the future of the University’s business program. He hopes future students also see the advantages of a broad background in solving today and tomorrow’s complex business challenges. Until then, his hope is that everyone takes an active role in the healthcare conversation, staying informed, engaged and thoughtful about what he sees as both the opportunities and risks that are in front of our nation.

“We do find ourselves at an incredibly important time in history. This isn’t really just a policy debate taking place in D.C. This really is about caring for the country’s most vulnerable populations – trying to get the system righted so that as many as possible, hopefully all, Americans have access to high quality care.”

It’s a tall order, but a challenge Pittman feels he couldn’t turn away from – no matter how much sleep it costs him.