Categories: Membership, News, Newsletter, Newsletter Issue 2018:4

Careers in Health Economics: Economic Consulting

By Yao Lu

I started my career in economic consulting at Analysis Group in 2015, after completing my PhD from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Prior to choosing Analysis Group, I had mainly contemplated working in academia. Over time, this career has proven to be an excellent fit for my skills; interests; and academic background, which includes Ph.D. work in applied econometrics, industrial organization, and health economics.

In this article, I’ll describe some of the key features of economic consulting that differentiate it from academic careers.

Fast-paced, team-oriented work environment

While there is no “typical” day or week in my position, one constant is the application of my skills to high-impact, team-based projects. In graduate school, I was consistently drawn to policy-relevant topics as a way to apply my academic training to real-world challenges. This motivation pairs well with the challenging and meaningful cases I work on now. For example, a team of antitrust and health economists at Analysis Group supported the testifying economist on behalf of the U.S. Department of Justice to evaluate the competitive effects of the Anthem/Cigna merger and then, in the litigation phase, to block the merger. I worked with a subgroup of health economists on claims data analyses related to the impact of increased post-merger insurer concentration on provider prices. These analyses were an important component of rebutting the merging parties’ efficiencies expert.

The team-oriented nature of our work is also particularly appealing to me. On any given day, I may be working on multiple cases, responding to client and expert requests (some of which might be fast-turnaround), and coordinating with numerous colleagues across several work streams. Our team-based projects ensure that I never feel like I’m fruitlessly spinning my wheels working on a problem. My colleagues are always incredibly generous, offering their time and expertise to help develop solutions.

Our teams usually consist of a mix of analysts (who typically have a bachelor’s or master’s degree), associates (who have a Ph.D or M.B.A), and more senior staff. This variety of backgrounds allows for division of labor, freshness of perspectives, and opportunities to both provide and receive mentoring on a case team. However, it’s also important to remember that not everyone received the same technical training as you did. As a result, it’s vital to develop the skill of communicating with different audiences. This is equally important whether you are discussing the intricacies of a bargaining model with a Ph.D. colleague, providing guidance on conceptual points to an analyst, or communicating high-level takeaways to the client.

Self-directed career path

Another important feature of my career is the flexibility to work in a variety of practice areas, topics, and industries. This staffing flexibility is somewhat unique to Analysis Group. It combines a self-driven “internal labor market” with guidance from staffing coordinators and advisors, as needed. Because I can chart my own course, I’m able to make strategic career decisions focused on my strengths and interests. For instance, I can decide which case teams to join, how to strike a balance between intense and relaxed periods at work, and whether to maintain a broad portfolio of case work or to specialize in one area.

Much of my case work focuses on antitrust litigation in the health care industry—such as matters dealing with the competitive effects of health insurer or provider mergers, or the analysis of counterfactual outcomes in the pharmaceutical industry. I’ve also worked in our health economics and outcomes research practice area, using claims and electronic medical records data to study topics related to opioid drugs and (separately) Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, I’ve worked on some non-health care cases, particularly those that deepen my expertise in antitrust economics, such as analyses of monopoly power.

As my career continues, I’ll also have the option to pursue testifying opportunities as an expert witness, since Analysis Group cultivates a network of both internal and affiliate (i.e., academic) experts.

The best fit for economic consulting: A broad skill set

The ideal candidate for an economic consulting career is someone who possesses and enjoys using a diverse set of skills. Technical and analytical skills certainly matter, since they deeply inform many of the analyses we work on. At the same time, other aspects of this job require additional skills, such as communication, teamwork, and organization. A sense of curiosity and openness to new experiences is also important, given the variety of topics and industries that we work on.

Overall, the combination of the type of work I do, the environment in which I do it, and the skills that this career pushes me to cultivate is an excellent fit for my background, skills, and interests. I am always learning and growing on the job.

Yao Lu is a Manager at the Analysis Group. She has an M.B.A. and a Ph.D., both from Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago.