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Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini on Healthcare System: ‘Everybody Hates It’

“It’s the worst possible experience of any experience you could have,” Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini says.

I don’t know about you, but I can think of an awful lot of bad experiences to have in this world—but the insurance executive has a point. The modern healthcare system is convoluted, expensive, infuriating, and rife with misplaced incentives.

“Life expectancy is going down—we’re 34th out of 34 in the OECD nations from the standpoint of value for health,” he told me in March at Fortune’s Brainstorm Health conference in Laguna Niguel, Calif. “So you look at that and say, should we fix this? Probably.” Especially if it’s going to suck up 75% of the nation’s next $10 trillion in debt as Bertolini asserts it will.

So how do you fix this? Change is certainly in the air, which is why Bertolini’s company agreed to a $69 billion merger with retail pharmacy CVS Health last December. And we all know there are problems. It’s merely a matter of turning that into a mission, Bertolini says. “If we fix this, we save the nation’s economy,” he says. “So is that worth doing? Probably.”

There’s more to that than the Aetna CEO is letting on. Health insurers like Aetna are hiring hundreds of data analytics researchers, machine learning technicians, and other specialists to apply today’s technology to the problem. It just might work, Bertolini says.

“What is the unmet customer need?” he rhetorically asks. “‘This experience sucks and it costs too much money and I have nowhere else to go.'”