November 5, 2008

James Roosevelt, Jr. Speaks at Wyant Lecture Series

Emmanuel College welcomed James Roosevelt, Jr., the President and Chief Executive Officer of Tufts Health Plan, as the keynote speaker for the most recent installment of the Wyant Lecture Series on October 30th. He discussed "The Opportunity to Fulfill a National Goal of Universal Health Care" with an audience in the Janet M. Daley Library Lecture Hall.

Roosevelt joined Tufts Health Plan in 1999 as senior vice president and general counsel, and assumed his current role in 2005. The co-chair of the Democratic National Convention Rules and Bylaws Committee, he has served as the chief legal counsel for the Massachusetts Democratic Party. He is also an Emmanuel College Trustee.

"To the Emmanuel College community Jim needs absolutely no introduction. He has always been present here with his wise counsel and support," said Emmanuel College President Sister Janet Eisner, SND of Roosevelt in her introduction. "He brings a valuable perspective on health care in our country and combines it with a unique view of the political landscape."

Roosevelt began his lecture by stating the timeliness of the issue of health care today. By presenting the lead story of that day's New York Times as proof, he noted, "hardly a day goes by that you won't see an article about health care and health insurance."

Roosevelt discussed the template and strategies for the Massachusetts Health Care Reform Plan, signed in April 2006, detailing the success of the initiative. He credited the care providers and the employers, the acceptance of the initiative by the business community, and the Massachusetts citizens for coming together on the issue and bearing the burden because of their belief in the results.

"What really made the passage of the law possible was the willingness of shared responsibilities between employers and health care providers," he said. "The Commonwealth really acted like a commonwealth to make this possible."

In just two years the Massachusetts Health Care Reform Plan has produced 439,000 newly insured individuals in the state. Roosevelt stated that Massachusetts is down to about 3% of uninsured citizens, well below the national average of 14%.

Referencing the national health care reform plans of the two presidential candidates, John McCain and Barack Obama, Roosevelt noted the similarities and differences between the two. He informed the audience of how each candidate intended to improve the country's health care system, listing the challenges that the country will face in the adoption of any form of universal health care, such as a troubled economy and the war on terrorism.

Noting past attempts, including Harry Truman's failed initiative to put forth a universal coverage plan, Lyndon B. Johnson's 1964 Medicare push - a "compromise" to universal coverage, and Bill Clinton's efforts in the early 90s, Roosevelt described universal health care as a "national goal we have yet to figure out how to reach." However, in looking at these unsuccessful endeavors, Roosevelt spoke with optimism that America may soon have the opportunity to fulfill such a goal.

"We have learned a lot from previous attempts and it is playing into the conversation now," he said.

Roosevelt currently chairs the board of directors for the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans, co-chairs the board of directors for the Tufts Health Care Institutes, and serves on the boards of America's Health Insurance Plans and the Kenneth B. Schwartz Center. He earned his J.D. from Harvard Business School. He was associate commissioner for Retirement Policy of the Social Security Administration in the Clinton Administration, and spent 10 years as a partner at Choate, Hall and Stewart in Boston before joining Tufts Health Plan.

The Wyant Lecture Series features speakers in the Humanities, History and the Arts. The Louise Doherty Wyant professorship was established by the late Louise Doherty Wyant '63 and her husband, Dr. James Wyant, in honor of Sister Anne Cyril Delaney, SND.