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Davis to Spend One More Year at Commonwealth Fund

By Dena Bunis, CQ HealthBeat Managing Editor

November 21, 2011 -- Karen Davis, who has been a fixture in health policy in Washington, D.C., and New York for decades, recently announced that 2012 will be her last year as president of The Commonwealth Fund.

"I'll have been there 20 years," Davis said in an interview. "It seems like a good point to go at the end of 2012."

Davis has worked at the Brookings Institution, has lectured at Harvard University and was a deputy assistant secretary for planning and evaluation at the Department of Health and Human Services during the Jimmy Carter administration. In 1980 she became the first woman to head a U.S. public health service agency when she became the administrator of the Health Resources Administration. After 11 years as a professor and department chairwoman at Johns Hopkins University, Davis joined The Commonwealth Fund in 1992 and became its president in 1995.

The Commonwealth president said she "feels good" about the health care overhaul that her organization fought for. And equally important, she said, are some of the concepts for changing the health care delivery system that the Fund has championed on her watch. She ticked off a number of such ideas, including the patient-centered medical home, accountable care organizations, and bundling of hospital and post-acute care payments.

Davis seemed most proud of the information and databases The Commonwealth Fund has collected and built, saying that these tools "made people aware that we didn't get the kind of performance that we can expect from the health care system." She said she believes "one of the reasons the fund is so well regarded is, people know they can trust the information that we put out. It's sound and it stands up to scrutiny."

Just because the health overhaul is now law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152), Davis doesn't believe the fund's work to fight for expanded access to quality health care is done.

"In some ways, health system transformation is still in its infancy," she said. "While health care leaders, hospital leaders and others in the health care sector know they have to change and want to change and know the direction they want to do in, how to really change is still a bit of a formidable obstacle," she said. Making the change happen is going to take more good information and a push to make sure that some of the "shining examples" of the best delivery systems go from being 10 percent of what's out there to 90 percent.

Beyond that, she said, remains the problem of health care costs. While she takes some comfort that costs as a percentage of gross domestic product are dropping, she said, there's a lot of work to be done to continue to eliminate duplication of care and waste.

"That's the challenge over the long term," Davis said.

Davis has no intention of putting her feet up and retiring at the end of next year.

"I certainly plan to be active," she said, "whether service on commissions or informational advice or going back into academia and speaking and writing."

And all to one end, she said: "Ensuring that everybody who needs health care gets it."

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