Point of View

How Health Systems Are Meeting the Challenge of Climate Change

The human and health impacts of climate change are becoming increasingly hard to ignore. Extreme weather events are disruptin... Read More

It’s Time for the Health Care system to Reckon with the Human Costs of Climate Change

This year, an estimated five million people worldwide will die from climate change. On its own, this statistic would seem u... Read More
Editor's Corner

The Sad Story of Patrick Conway

Many of the CMS alumni and current staff were shocked and saddened to see the recent resignation of Patrick Conway as the CEO of BCBSNC.  While no one, including Patrick himself, condones the incident that led to his resignation...

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Many of the CMS alumni and current staff were shocked and saddened to see the recent resignation of Patrick Conway as the CEO of BCBSNC.  While no one, including Patrick himself, condones the incident that led to his resignation, the way it played out in the media once the initial story was published was troubling from a number of perspectives.  The local NC media and Wall Street Journal quickly developed a storyline depicting Patrick in a one-dimensional, very negative way -- which they enhanced over a period of days with a video and then continued to stress during his trial last week.

The state insurance commissioner’s statements added to the negative image as he expressed outrage over what he claimed was a coverup of the incident by BCBSNC.  His comments seemed to stem more from the commissioner’s hurt ego because he had not been initially informed about Patrick’s arrest.  While admittedly the company was not totally upfront with the commissioner, the problem is that in this case, as it often is for the media, maintaining and expanding a pre-determined storyline becomes the goal, and the “villain” in the story (Patrick) becomes a target who gets savaged until the next story comes along that diverts the media’s attention.  Innocent bystanders in the story, like his family, are left dealing with the social media crackpots and other fallout while the media moves on to the next “scandal”.

Not mentioned in the media frenzy was the great work that Patrick has done over the last decade at HHS, CMS and at BCBS, to advance better healthcare in this country.   He has spent years bringing his knowledge, passion, and ability to work with multiple stakeholders, to create positive changes.  The Patrick Conway I know is an honest, low-key person who cares deeply about how healthcare is delivered and paid for.  I first met Patrick over ten years ago when he was doing work for AHRQ and later the Office of the HHS Secretary and I was running the Office of E-Health Standards and Services at CMS.  Patrick worked with us to develop the first Medicare personal health records initiative with beneficiaries in South Carolina.  The project was a forerunner of today’s consumer-centered healthcare (e.g. Blue Button) and Patrick was a key supporter of our effort in the Secretary’s Office.  At the end of the Bush Administration, Patrick left Federal service only to return a few years later when he was named the head of CMS’ CCSQ and the Agency’s Chief Medical Officer.  Later Patrick took on a second hat as the head of CMS’ Innovation Center, which he held until he left to become BCBSNC’s CEO in late 2017.    Patrick and I worked closely together at CMS on various priority CMS and national initiatives until I left the Agency at the end of 2013.

At CMS, Patrick was very active in promoting a national Quality Agenda, leading CMS’ move to value-based payments, and broadening and expanding the work of the Innovation Center models.  Well-respected and liked by his peers and staff, Patrick became known as a major leader in the Federal and national healthcare space.  Patrick continued his innovative work at BCBSNC and until his resignation, was heading up an effort to merge BCBSNC and Cambia Health Solutions.

Patrick’s future at this point is uncertain but I hope that he and his family can recover from this incident and their lives return to normal.  I also hope that at some point Patrick can once again play a major role in helping to shape the future of the US healthcare.  We already miss his passion, commitment, and innovative thinking.  The nation will be worse off if we cannot find a way to again utilize Patrick’s unique talents to help solve the national challenges that we face in this era of extreme change and instability in our healthcare ecosystem.

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