Kristin Bass

Association Lobbyist of the Year

Bass says ability to listen and understand is key for association advocates

CEO Update: One of your earlier roles was with the American Association of Health Plans. What path led you to a career in health care advocacy?
Kristin Bass: I had no idea what to do (after graduating from college). A bunch of friends moved to Boston—Somerville actually—so I moved in with them. I looked for work and I ended up finding a job for a little company that wrote the training manuals for pharmaceutical sales reps. … So I did that for a couple of years and eventually moved down to D.C. because I really wanted to do public policy work. And because I had that modicum of health care background, the jobs that I interviewed for ended up being for people interested in health care.

CU: You have been at the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association for more than a decade. What is it about the association and your work that kept you there?
I am one of those people who loves to be in the middle of things, and I love to be in situations that are incredibly challenging. … Among the challenges out there for health care workers is dealing with prescription drug costs, and our industry is right in the middle of that because our companies are the ones negotiating with manufacturers and pharmacies to try to get the costs down for people who are paying for health care. Over time, my role (at PCMA) has expanded. At first I was hired as head of policy, then our main lobbyist left and I was asked to do that, too. Then we started a regulatory shop and we just kept expanding and expanding in terms of the number of people that we have and the amount of work we’ve taken on.

CU: What characteristics do you look for in team members?
It is hard to put your finger on exactly what it is, but I always look for people who are smart and verbally adept. If they’re a lobbyist, we need people who are personable—who like working with people. We always look for people who can demonstrate that they’ve been collaborative because our organizational culture is so important. We have as collaborative a culture as I’ve ever worked in. Because we’re so small, we have to be really nimble, which means people work across functional lines all the time.

CU: Has the lack of bipartisanship in Congress made your job more difficult?
It depends very much on the issue. My personal opinion is the lack of bipartisanship is bad for our nation. … For instance, one of the things that we’re really worried about is the abuse of patents by some—but not all—drug manufacturers to extend the amount of time they can exclusively sell their product and basically be a monopoly. There is some bipartisan work going on around that, so that is a nice thing to see.

CU: What characteristics must an association lobbyist possess to be successful today?
Especially for association lobbyists, I think the ability to listen and understand the points of view of your members is incredibly important to fairly represent them. In respect to (Capitol) Hill, curiosity and humility are always important. … Curiosity is important in terms of figuring out where members of Congress are (on issues), what their views are and how you can think through addressing their concerns. And just always respecting that everybody in this town is smart. I always go into meetings thinking everybody in this room is really smart. Even if our stuff is really complicated, everybody’s trying to figure out the right thing to do for their constituents.

CU: What advice or lessons learned would you give to new lobbyists?
Be kind and generous with everyone that you work with because I think it goes a really long way in this town. People really appreciate it, and I know that the people I think most highly of are always kind and generous and lovely to deal with.

Career highlights
Lobbying life: Bass joined PCMA in 2009 and is now chief policy and external affairs officer. The association represents pharmacy benefit managers, which administer prescription drug plans for Americans with health coverage. She previously held roles at the Healthcare Leadership Council, WellPoint (now Anthem) and the American Association of Health Plans (which later merged with another group to form AHIP). She has a bachelor’s degree and an MBA from Yale University.

Pitch perfect: Bass is a member of the women’s a cappella singing group Venus d Minor. She once performed with the group at the State Department for former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Venus d Minor more recently performed at a benefit concert to raise money for homeless shelters in Washington, D.C.  

Team effort: Bass said she is accepting the Association Leadership Award on behalf of the PCMA team. “My general view is my success rests squarely on the shoulders of all the people I work with at PCMA. This award is more about them than it is about me.”

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The Association Leadership Awards is CEO Update's annual recognition program