Long List of Experts Advising Presidential Hopefuls

A decade ago, when the Democrats set out to reform healthcare, they turned to one person above all others: Ira Magaziner.

The New England management consultant, charged in the early 1990s with helping then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton reform the nation’s healthcare system, had a reputation as a genius — at least until his proposals went down to resounding defeat.

As the Democratic hopefuls once again broach the subject of healthcare reform, there is no single super-wonk healthcare adviser — no new Ira Magaziner — in sight.

The healthcare experts named by the leading Democratic presidential hopefuls are “all big names, well-organized, been in Washington and outside for decades,” according to Gerald Anderson, a professor at Johns Hopkins University. But the list of names is long.

Kerry’s campaign named a group that is familiar to others as advisers of former Massachusetts governor and 1988 presidential candidate Michael Dukakis: Stuart Altman, a health economist who holds a chair at Brandeis University and who was formerly chairman of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, an independent federal body; Dr. Harris Berman, the chief of Tufts Health Plan; Dr. David Blumenthal, director of the Institute for Health Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital; Nick Littlefield, a lawyer who was former staff director and chief counsel for the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee; Dr. James Mongan, president of Partners HealthCare System, a Massachusetts healthcare network; and Peter Stamos, a former chief of staff for New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley. Bradley offered a widely praised healthcare plan during his unsuccessful bid for the 2000 Democratic presidential nomination.

Finally, Kerry’s campaign named the other senator from Massachusetts, Edward Kennedy, formerly the chairman and now the ranking member on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Gephardt, by contrast, is his own chief healthcare adviser: According to his campaign, he hatched his own plan to subsidize businesses that guarantee coverage to all employees. “Honestly, Dick came up with the idea himself,” wrote Gephardt’s communications director, Erik Smith, in an e-mail to the Forward. Helping the congressman formulate his ideas into policy are Andie King, Mike Wessel and Cassandra Butts. King, who is now at Van Scoyoc Associates in Washington, worked for Gephardt for two decades specializing in healthcare, education and retirement security, including Medicare. Wessel, currently at Downey, McGrath & Associates in Washington, spent years as a Gephardt staffer working in tax, trade, economy, labor and other issues. Butts is Gephardt’s policy director.

The Dean campaign cited three individuals as its major advisers on healthcare policy: Jeremy Ben-Ami, a former Clinton administration domestic policy adviser who just signed on as its policy director; Peter Van Vranken, who worked for Dean in the governor’s office in Vermont, and Larry Lewin of the Lewin Group, a healthcare policy and management consultancy based in Falls Church, Va.

The campaign of Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, which has yet to offer any healthcare plan, provided the name of a staffer in the senator’s office, James Kvaal, a former Clinton administration official who also advises California’s Department of Health and Human Services. “That’s the only person we can publicly say,” said Edwards spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri.

Lieberman’s campaign declined to release the names of the senator’s healthcare advisers, because, lacking a full plan, he is still weighing approaches and options. “Lieberman will detail his full health-care plan this summer,” said spokesman Jano Cabrera. “Until then, he will continue consulting with a wide group of healthcare and policy experts on how best to address coverage, care and cures in our nation.”

Fans of Ira Magaziner should not despair, however: The nation has not seen the last of him on the healthcare beat. Although he did not respond to a call and an e-mail message seeking comment for this story, according to his office, he is traveling in India working on an initiative to ameliorate AIDS in the developing world on behalf of his old friend Bill Clinton.

This story "Long List of Experts Advising Presidential Hopefuls" was written by E.J. Kessler.


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