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2006 Women to Watch: Helen Darling

National Business Group on Health

Helen Darling


National Business Group on Health


Age: 64



Helen Darling joined the National Business Group on Health after spending much of her career directing or advising on the purchase of health care. Early in her career, she was an advisor to Sen. David Durenberger, when he was the ranking Republican on the Health Subcommittee of the Senate Finance Committee. She directed three studies at the Institute of Medicine for the National Academy of Sciences. Later she was a consultant at Watson Wyatt Worldwide and then William M. Mercer. From 1992 through 1998 she directed the purchasing of health benefits and disability at Xerox Corp.



Q: If you had the ability to change one thing about the industry what would it be?

A: "As a benefits manager, I would most like to see dramatic change in the health care system. Most employers are spending well over $8,000 per employee for their health care, yet perhaps as much as one-third of this expense is wasted on medical care that is unsafe, not useful or not evidence-based best practice care that the patient should be getting…. If we reduced waste, we could also afford coverage for the 46.6 million Americans who have no health insurance."



Q: What advice would you give young women entering the industry today?

A: "Learn the basics of the fields you may be working in…whether it is actuarial, underwriting, finance, accounting, management science, statistics, epidemiology, research methods, so that you can do all of the jobs you need to do or understand, going up the corporate ladder and so you can manage most effectively when you move into senior management. Get the top tier credentials as soon as possible. Recognize that you will need to be far broader in your vision and your work, even though you need to be grounded in key competencies for your work. Understanding economic, financial and global cultural trends are essential in today's business. Also, candidly, if you decide to take some time (on a part-time basis or even for a few months when you have a baby) and, as your kids grow up, want to have a little more balance in your life, if you have key, highly marketable skills and competencies, it will be a little easier to remain on an executive track."



Q: Who has had the greatest influence on your career and why?

A: "One of my earliest bosses, after a relatively short time of my being in a small organization as a health researcher, asked me if I wanted to become his second in command and have a COO role…. I was new enough in my post-Master's career to not appreciate what a big leap of faith it was. But that got me on a path with opportunities to function at a completely different level. I am sure it changed my career significantly because I had greater responsibilities at an earlier age than I would have otherwise. One of the things it taught me was that you need to be ready and prepared so that when you also just ‘luck out,’ you don't stumble or fail."


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