Who are these Really Smart People who will control every aspect of our healthcare system?
by Rob Roper
Montpelier – Anya Rader Wallack, chair of the newly formed Green Mountain Care Board, introduced herself to the press on October 4th, “I think most of you in the room know me. I’m… here to finish a job. I’ve been working on health care reform in Vermont for many years and I think we have a particular opportunity at this point in time….”
Before she held this job, Wallack served as Special Assistant to the Governor who appointed her, a move that smacked heavily of politics. Wallack has a Ph.D. in social policy from Brandeis University’s Heller School, and has held a number of consulting jobs regarding healthcare policy, and served as Policy Director and Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Howard Dean from 1991-1994.
But, who are the other members of the Board, and why were they picked, and what is expected of them?
Dr. Alan Ramsay is the Director of Palliative Care Services at Fletcher Allen. His medical degree is from Emory University. He described himself in his own words, “I’ve Been a family physician in Vermont for over thirty years and I’ve been a teacher in the college of family medicine. I was appointed to the board by Governor Shumlin I think to work both with my primary care colleagues and my specialty care colleagues around the state to assure a sense of confidence, a sense of optimism that we can do this work.”
Wallack has charged Ramsey with the task of taking the lead on payment reform, workforce development, and public outreach, building support among healthcare providers.
Con Hogan served as Secretary of Human Services under Howard Dean from 1991-1999. Hogan also co-authored two books, At the Crossroads; The future of healthcare in Vermont, and Gridlock; The Politics of Health Care in Vermont, with founder of Vermont Healthcare for All, Dr. Deb Richter.
“I’m just thrilled to be part of this group, and am looking forward to it,” said Hogan.
Wallak has tapped Hogan to focus on hospital budgets. “Con will be involved in figuring out where the hospital budget process is at now and what it means for us to be introduced to that process. And, Con’s also taking on the data and evaluation. By that I mean getting a handle on what data sources are available to us, how they support our decision making.”
Mary Hein, the other medical doctor on the Board, was the most loquacious of the bunch about her qualifications. “I’m a physician, and I’ve worked in actually five different sectors. In academia, I’ve worked mostly in prison health and adolescent AIDS. Second sector was in government. I worked in the senate Finance Committee seventeen years ago on health care reform, so I’m here to help finish that job. The third was in a think-tank. I was at the Institute of Medicine as an executive officer with many of the issues that we will be touching upon. Then [fourth] in the foundation world as president of the William T. Grant foundation. And, in the last decade, in global health and humanitarian assistance. I’ve had a house in Vermont for forty-one years. I’ve lived here full time for ten years. If I had to say why I was chosen for the board, perhaps it was as a sector bridging person to bring the thoughts and the presence of so many different perspectives to Vermont, and to help represent you as well as the rest of the world in this bold experiment, and I’m delighted to be here.”
Hein’s job will be to take the lead on developing the benefits package and on developing a public engagement strategy reaching out to Vermonters, and even beyond the state.
The last member of the team is Al Gobielle, a Burlington businessman and restaurateur who owns the Shanty on the Shore, Burlington Bay Market and Café, and the Breakwater Bar & Grill. Gobielle serves on the Shelburne select board and is a volunteer football coach. “Go CVU!”
“I’ve asked Al to reach out to the business community both in Vermont and beyond,” said Wallack, and to find out about best practices in benefit design. There’s a lot happening in the private sector to introduce innovation that results in people staying healthier, and reducing the use of expensive health care. So, I’ve asked Al to be our expert on that particular aspect of benefit design, and to work with Karen on the general sense of design. And to be our guy on outreach to the business community in general.”
“We have a very broad charge, and very broad authority,” concluded Wallack. “To me, the most important thing we have to do approaching that charge and authority is be strategic. So, there’s a long list of things that we can do, but we have to figure out what is the short list of things that we will do in order to make a difference quickly to get our job done.”
Governor Shumlin has promised that Vermont will succeed where all other state and federal attempts at healthcare reform have failed on the strength of putting “really smart people” in charge. This what he came up with. One observer quipped. “This board is the incompetent leading the unwilling to do the unnecessary.”