Karen Davis to step down from Commonwealth Fund

Davis leaves a legacy of health policy research and practical improvments

Research only becomes meaningful when it is applied in a practical manner, resulting in some measurable improvement. Karen Davis, researcher, economist and health policy leader, has advocated practical use of research for the Commonwealth Fund since she joined the organization in 1992. Last week, she announced plans to step down as the Fund’s president on December 31, 2012.

“ Davis' legacy at the Commonwealth Fund has been one of profound and positive changes in her organization's response to the country's growing need for non-partisan voices on healthcare issues,” says Don Hall, principal, Delta Sigma LLC in Littleton, Colo., and MHE editorial advisor. “ The Fund's leadership on the development of the Affordable Care Act will mark the beginning of what hopefully will emerge as a comprehensive and affordable system of healthcare for everyone.”

Her other achievements include work on the patient-centered medical home model, interventions to reduce costly hospital readmissions, enhancement of healthcare information technology infrastructure and patient safety initiatives.

In an exclusive interview in 2010, Davis told MHE that an idea alone is not promising or exciting, but that you must have the hard data on whether the idea is a better way of providing care, better quality, better access or lower cost.

Many of the policy reports prepared by the Commonwealth Fund under her leadership outlined ambitious agendas for the president and congress, many facets of which were eventually included in national policy. For example, the Fund’s recommendation for a 5% increase in primary care physician payment parallels the 10% increase in payment called for in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Payment innovations, insurance exchanges and near universal coverage were also suggested by the organization in testimony in the days leading up to health reform’s passage.

During her career, Davis taught at Rice University, Harvard and Johns Hopkins University. In 1977, she was appointed deputy assistant secretary for planning and evaluation in the Office of the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). 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. She served as chairman of the Department of Health Policy and Management at the School of Hygiene and Public Health from 1983 to 1992. In 1992, she became executive vice president of the Commonwealth Fund, and in 1995, she became its president. Davis earned her bachelor’s degree and a doctoral degree in economics from Rice University in Houston.

The search for Davis’s successor as president of the Fund will be conducted by the foundation’s board.

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