UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of California CEO works to ensure everyone has access to health care

Kevin Kandalaft remembers the exact moment he knew he wanted to work in Medicaid.

In 2002, his 1-year-old daughter was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a rare form of eye cancer that begins in the retina of young children. The tumor required immediate and acute treatment, so Kevin and his wife took her in for surgery.

Years earlier, while still in graduate school, Kevin decided he wanted his career to make a difference. He chose health care administration over the allure of Wall Street. After almost a decade as a health plan executive in New Mexico, it was this moment, when he and his family were on the receiving end of health care, that Kevin was struck with yet another epiphany.

As he waited for his daughter’s surgery to be completed, he sat in the hospital waiting room observing so many families from different backgrounds and ethnicities. Most didn’t appear to speak English and were struggling to navigate a complex health care system. They seemed overwhelmed with fear, concern, and confusion.

“I always think of that day,” Kevin said. “From that moment, I knew I wanted to focus my career on helping the most vulnerable populations facing challenges with their health care and in their personal lives. Today, that drives everything I do.”

Today, Kevin is the chief executive officer of the UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of California. He joined UnitedHealthcare in September 2010, bringing with him nearly two decades of experience in Medicaid, Medicare and commercial health plan leadership. He chose to join the UnitedHealthcare team because he knew, from that day in the waiting room, that he wanted to work for a company whose mission — to help people live healthier lives and help make the health care system work better for everyone — could help shape the future his children would one day inherit.

After more than a decade with UnitedHealthcare, Kevin said across the country, many of the issues facing both individuals and health care providers remain the same. Ensuring everyone has access to affordable health care remains at the forefront.

“Getting people access to high-quality providers is something that’s easy to say,” Kevin said. “But it’s not an easy thing to achieve — particularly in the COVID era.”

The pandemic has sent shockwaves throughout the health care community. Concerned about exposure to COVID-19 and their own well-being, as well as that of their loved ones, many people have canceled or postponed their regular check-ups and wellness visits to the doctor. Neglecting elective and preventive care may not only jeopardize the health of the individual, but by increasing the risk of more severe injury and illness in the future, it also threatens to overwhelm a health care system still dealing with COVID-19.

Beyond the health care needs, Kevin and his team are committed to assisting people with nutritional needs during COVID-19. For instance, the health plan has provided financial support and supplies for community food distributions, delivered infant formula to its members when store inventories were low on stock and even had two weeks’ worth of groceries delivered to members who had difficulty accessing food during COVID-19.

“We’re more than an insurance company — we’re here to support the community,” Kevin said. “It’s our job to make the health care system work better for everyone and to enable our partners and providers to accomplish their mission and foster a healthy community.”

No matter where his current job takes him, Kevin’s mind is never far from that hospital waiting room 18 years ago. That experience continues to inspire him, and he is proud to be part of UnitedHealthcare’s efforts to help individuals and families live healthier lives.

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