Jim Douglas: More Than a Moderate Success

John Commins, December 2, 2010

"If we have the same objective, we can find the common ground necessary to get there."

In our annual HealthLeaders 20, we profile individuals who are changing healthcare for the better. Some are longtime industry fixtures; others would clearly be considered outsiders. Some are revered; others would not win many popularity contests. All of them are playing a crucial role in making the healthcare industry better. This is Jim Douglas' story.

Anyone who watched the deeply partisan, mean-spirited wrangling in Washington, DC, this past year during the healthcare reform debate would not be faulted for believing that the American political system is dysfunctional.

To find a working, bipartisan, political system that focuses on practical results within budgetary constraints, leave the Beltway and look to the states. In striking contrast to Congress, Vermont provides a great example of what Republicans and Democrats can achieve in healthcare when they agree upon a common goal. And perhaps no one better embodies that bipartisan spirit in the Green Mountain State than long-serving Republican Gov. Jim Douglas.

A career politician who has held various roles in state politics for three decades, Douglas is serving the last of his eight years in office, having been elected and reelected four times as a fiscal conservative and social moderate Republican in a state with a national reputation as a quirky hotbed for progressive politics.

In 2003, shortly after taking office, Douglas launched the Blueprint for Health in Vermont, with an emphasis on preventing illness and complications, rather than responding to health emergencies. Working with Democratic majorities in both chambers, he signed a package of healthcare reforms in 2006 to expand access to coverage, improve quality, and contain costs.

"If we have the same objective, we can find the common ground necessary to get there," Douglas says of his work with Democrats. "We found ways to make the progress here in a bipartisan basis that we can all be proud of. There are always advocates who will want to do more or something different, and that is a dynamic of our system. But the commonality of the interests in serving the people of Vermont and working toward a healthier population has allowed us to find that common ground."

Vermont's healthcare successes have not gone unnoticed. For the past three years, Vermont has been ranked the nation's No. 1 healthiest state by the United Health Foundation, the American Public Health Association, and Partnership for Prevention. The state ranked among the Top 10 states in 11 of 22 measures, including second-highest level of funding for public health, and ninth-lowest percentage of people without health insurance.

John Commins

John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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