Gail Wilensky, who led the Medicare and Medicaid bureaucracies under President George H.W. Bush and presided over a federal board advising the secretary of defense on healthcare issues under President George W. Bush, is staying busy in the private sector while the GOP is out of power in Washington.
Wilensky joins BrainScope's board
A veteran of numerous boards, former Bush adviser says no conflicts present
Wilensky, 66, recently joined the board of directors of the BrainScope Co., a biomedical technology startup based in Washington that is designing noninvasive devices that would allow physicians to assess brain function following traumatic head injuries at the initial point of care. The handheld devices are intended for military use, where soldiers could use the technology to rapidly assess whether traumatic brain injury or concussion has occurred and whether treatment or rest is needed. Wilensky said the devices would also have applications in the civilian world.
Wilensky said there was no conflict between her role at BrainScope and the job she held in 2008 and part of 2009 as president of the Defense Health Board, which advises the secretary of defense on healthcare delivery and research and the promotion of veterans' health.
And Wilensky said she's not afraid of being overwhelmed by too many roles. “I don't think it's a conflict, and if I didn't think I could handle (the time commitment), I wouldn't take it on,” said Wilensky, who was administrator of the Health Care Financing Administration, the precursor to the CMS, from 1990 to 1992.
She noted that although the Defense Health Board does maintain a subcommittee on traumatic brain injuries whose goal is to advise the Defense Department on detection of such injuries, any recommendations the subcommittee might have made to the defense board were advisory only. “The Defense Health Board does not make any purchasing or acquisition decisions,” Wilensky said. “My appointment at the Defense Health Board has expired, so it's not at all relevant.”
Her role on BrainScope's board comes in addition to board positions she already holds with: Minnetonka, Minn., health plan UnitedHealth Group; Frazer, Pa.-based biopharmaceutical maker Cephalon; Madison, N.J., medical laboratory operator Quest Diagnostics; and Fairfax, Va.-based military and global health consultancy SRA International.
In 2008, she saw a windfall of $790,100 after the stock options granted to her as director of another company, long-term-care provider Manor Care, were cashed out following the leveraged acquisition by private equity giant the Carlyle Group (Jan. 7, 2008, p. 17). Earlier this year, Wilensky opted not to run for re-election to the board of Atlanta home healthcare provider Gentiva Health Services after nine years on the board, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Wilensky's five current board memberships come in addition to her longstanding position as a senior fellow at Project HOPE, where she has advised on healthcare and reform policies since 1993. The nonpartisan not-for-profit has worked closely with the federal government on international projects over the years, including in 2003, when the Bush administration tapped the organization to equip and train the staff of the American-built Basrah Children's Hospital in southern Iraq in 2003.
Wilensky appeared on the Modern Healthcare annual list of the 100 Most Powerful People in Healthcare from 2002 to 2004, including a No. 9 position in 2003, when she was co-chairwoman of the President's Task Force to Improve Health Care Delivery for Our Nation's Veterans. A 2001 profile of her in the magazine said she was “the voice that Republican lawmakers have turned to” in arguing for market-based reforms of government-run health plans. From 1992 to 1993 she served in the White
House as deputy assistant to the president for healthcare policy development.
She said it's not clear what compensation she will receive from BrainScope, although it would likely be in stock and travel reimbursements, not cash. Officials with BrainScope—a privately held firm funded by three venture capital firms, including Revolution headed by Steve Case—declined to say what compensation Wilensky would be eligible to receive as a member of the board.
“It's an interesting company and an idea, but it's still a startup,” Wilensky said. “Most of these startup companies don't survive. ... Historically, being able to make it as a small startup is challenging at best.”
Also serving on the BrainScope board of directors and chairing its medical advisory board is James Peake, who served as secretary of the Veterans Affairs Department from December 2007 to January 2009, as well as serving as executive vice president at Project HOPE when the not-for-profit was tapped by the military in 2004 to provide humanitarian relief following the tsunami in Southeast Asia and after Hurricane Katrina along the U.S. Gulf Coast in 2005.
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