Business Q & A

Five questions with Karen Cox

Karen Cox didn't intend to be in the health business forever.

But it has been a good fit. "These are exciting times" to be involved with health care and reform efforts, she said.

Earlier this year, Cox was named chief operating officer for ProviDRs Care Network. It's the latest in a string of health industry jobs that began in the 1970s, after she earned her business administration degree from Wichita State University.

She was recruited to Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas. "My thought was I would get some experience and probably move on to a completely different industry. Twenty years later, I was still at Blue Cross."

Cox became its first female regional manager before being joining IMA in 1997 to grow its benefits division. She was there 10 years.

"At some point in your life, you think that maybe you want to try something different," she said. "I took 10 months off, for the first time in my adult life, and did some reinventing of myself."

That led her to the Kansas Career Pipeline, where she was vice president for sales and operations until joining ProviDRs Care Network.

Away from the job, Cox is a volunteer for the American Heart Association — her first husband died of heart disease. If those at high risk of chronic disease can be identified and given the tools to manage the disease, she said, "that's where we're going to see the big health savings."

1. What is ProviDRs Care Network?

"A physician-owned preferred provider organization, which means we provide a statewide network that can be basically 'rented' by insurance companies, third-party administrators and employer groups."

2. What is your task, as COO?

"My job has been to re-evaluate all of our policies and procedures. That means all the way from how we obtain discounts, how we reprice claims, everything that we can possibly do to help our customers have lower health care costs. Concurrently, I am now looking at our future direction, to determine what other tools and resources we can provide.... Today we cannot be just a PPO."

3. What's the biggest challenge you face?

"The uncertainty of health care reform. I have a lot of ideas, the physicians have a lot of ideas, the community and employers have a lot of ideas.... Health care reform could change all that.... But we're definitely not going to wait. Can't afford to."

4. What did you learn at Kansas Career Pipeline that helped you here?

"My background in the insurance industry was a big help (there) because I worked with human resource administrators all over the state. It was very helpful to have those same connections and to use my same network. It's been tough to keep employees and it's been tough to provide them benefits, so it's all kind of tied together."

5. What's something most people don't know about you?

"I grew up with horses and have always had horses, and my sport of choice is polo.... Playing polo is just absolutely invigorating. It's fun."