Helena Foulkes has completed four marathons and ran from bulls down the streets of Pamplona, Spain, but her rigorous (and somewhat dangerous) physical pursuits are a walk in the park compared to her career ambitions.
CVS Caremark – one of the largest pharmacy health care providers in the United States – appointed Foulkes to the position of executive vice president and chief health care strategy and marketing officer when the company created the role in 2011. Before then, Foulkes, who earned a B.A. and MBA from Harvard University, was the executive vice president and chief marketing officer and held several high-ranking titles since joining CVS Caremark in 1992.
CVS/pharmacy customers with an ExtraCare card have Foulkes to thank for saving a few dollars at the check out, since she helped launch the loyalty card as well as the Pharmacy Advisor program, which promotes medication compliance through more communication between pharmacists and patients with chronic conditions.
Today, Foulkes, 48, has turned her focus on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, serving as a liaison between government officials and 7,300 CVS/pharmacy stores nationwide to ensure consumers receive the best low-cost health care options under the law. On top of that, she's responsible for the company's philanthropy efforts and developing a digital strategy to help patients navigate what she calls "the world of pharmacy."
The Providence, R.I. resident boiled down what employers and employees need to know about the nation's health care reform and shared her secret weapon question she asks on the first day of a new job. Her responses have been edited.
The Affordable Care Act is confusing to many people. What can employees do to better understand the law and how it affects them?
The best advice I have on this is talk to your HR department, and read about the changes happening under the ACA online. Many employees of big companies who already have employer-sponsored health insurance may not notice a big change, especially if their company, like ours, opts to continue to provide private insurance to its employees.
But no matter what your situation, knowledge on the topic will only help you understand how you may be affected and what, if any, new options are available to you and your family. One resource is the Department of Health and Human Service's healthcare.gov. It seems to answer a lot of the questions people have right now about the health care marketplace and the upcoming requirements that impact individuals.
Few employers have read all 906 pages of the law. For those who want a CliffsNotes version, what are three important things they should know when it comes to providing health care for their employees?
There are three things I think employers have to have top of mind. First, employers should ask themselves: "Do I need to change my health plan eligibility rules to comply with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act?" This is the part of the law that was delayed recently until 2015. [The Obama administration extended the deadline from Jan. 1, 2014 to Jan. 1, 2015 for employers with more than 50 employees to offer health insurance coverage.]
Two, understand the communications requirements associated with the law. For example, you need to communicate the introduction of exchanges to all employees, and not just to your full-time benefits-eligible employees.
And finally, when preparing to comply with the law's reporting requirements, it is important employers work with all of their health plan partners, many of whom are developing tools and resources to help companies in meeting their compliance requirements.
Switching gears a little – let's say you have a job interview in a few hours, but are feeling under the weather. What would you recommend to do in this situation?
I would recommend that you buckle up and show up for the interview. People want to know that I'm hiring someone with a great work ethic and tenacity, and lots of days we all have personal issues that we confront, but we have to overcome them and show up. So even if you show up and say, "I've been really sick, but this was so important to me that I came to this interview," I think that actually sends a great message.
If you want to make a good impression on the first day, what should you do?
I think the most important thing you can do when you start a new job is to really define success. I like to start new roles asking a lot of questions of the people that I work with or the people I'm going to be working with across the company. I like to know how they would see success a year from now. So the question is often, "If we were really successful at this, what would it look like a year from now?" I think when you do that, people start answering in really interesting ways and you start to understand what's important to the people you're serving or working with.
Is there one health product you should always keep in your office drawer?
For me, the product I keep in my drawer and actually keep in my pocket book is the CVS brand pain reliever because I get headaches sometimes.
What's the best career advice you've ever gotten?
The best career advice I've ever gotten is to be focused, yet flexible. It's really important from a career perspective to have a plan, to know what you want, to understand what you're good at – and that's all the focus part. I think it's also equally important to be flexible because sometimes opportunities come along that are not planned for, or that make you nervous or that make you uncomfortable, and those can often be the most interesting decisions that a person makes. Someone really needs to be open to those kinds of opportunities as well, so I always talk about it in terms of being focused and flexible.
Editor's Note: Around the Water Cooler is an ongoing series, in which U.S. News talks with company executives to get their career advice for employees and managers.