Dukakis calls for Healthcare Reform

Former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis speaks out on health care at the Fairmount Copley Plaza hotel.

Former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis speaks out on health care at the Fairmount Copley Plaza hotel.

Carl Brooks

Ex-Governor of Massachusetts Michael Dukakis made a blunt and forceful call for health care reform at the annual Emerging Leaders of Boston luncheon. The Emerging Leaders program, part of the College of Management, takes a small group of hand-picked “leaders “through a series of classes and seminars that let them meet and talk with some of the more prominent citizens of Boston. The luncheon took place at the Oval Room at the swank Fairmount Copley Plaza hotel. Over three hundred guests crowded the ornate room and enjoyed a hot lunch with former graduates of the Emerging Leaders program, new nominees and their sponsors.

Getting into the Leaders program is no small task; all the attendees are individually nominated, usually by higher ups in their own organizations, like 2003 Fellow Todd Meringhoff. Meringhoff was selected by his boss, Charles Hindmarsh, President of State Street Capital Markets and Director on the board of the British-American Business Council. Meringhoff explains the essence of the Leaders program. “We have seminars with important people in Boston; we’re always hearing lots of leaders, and it’s usually a very intimate setting.”

The luncheon was populated with many UMB bigwigs as well; David Mackenzie, Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance breezed in late from a meeting at the UMass President’s Office, and former Chancellor Sherry Penney and current Chancellor Jo Ann Gora shared a table to enjoy the ritzy food and listen to Governor Dukakis. Penney currently occupies the Sherry H. Penney Endowed Professorship in Leadership in the College of Management.

Governor Dukakis, a familiar face on the Boston scene, currently teaches at Northeastern University and visits UMass Boston several times a year to help out with the Emerging Leaders program. He took the podium to warm applause and used the pulpit to address what he called, “The most pressing problem we have.” Dukakis, a former presidential candidate, outlined what he called “the insanity” of the current healthcare and hospital system in Massachusetts, but stopped short of offering a solution directly. Saying, “The system is in a death spiral, “Governor Dukakis explained how hospitals were compelled by law to offer free emergency care to anyone who needed it, but couldn’t be reimbursed. The uninsured, the governor pointed out, are the most likely to need expensive emergency care that could be prevented with routine treatment, but they would never be able to afford insurance coverage, so hospitals had to pay out of pocket for care, and try to recoup costs from wealthier patients and increased costs to private insurers.

Dukakis outlined his own efforts at health care reform as governor; Massachusetts has the most generous free care plan in the country and a very low rate of uninsured thanks to his efforts, but hospitals are closing rapidly and crisis looms. He noted that his early efforts were made with the help of Republican Nelson Gifford, late of the Tennyson Company, to introduce universal healthcare in 1988, and said that programs like Emerging Leaders helped teach “the one skill that is necessary in politics. That is consensus building.”

Gina Torres, Assistant Program Manager at the Center for Collaborative Leadership, which runs Emerging Leaders, explains, “Our goal is diversity in race, gender and organization. That’s profit, non-profit and government. We need these bodies to work together.” The program, brainchild of former Chancellor Penney, has been in existence since 2001 and has turned out two graduating classes.