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Karen Davis

Recipient of the 2015 Robert M. Ball Award for Outstanding Achievements in Social Insurance

Karen Davis is the 2015 recipient of the Robert M. Ball Award for Outstanding Achievements in Social Insurance.  A nationally recognized economist and leader in health policy, Davis has made significant contributions in a number of areas. Her efforts to improve the quality and sustainability of Medicare benefits millions of Americans, including current and future beneficiaries of the program. As President of the Commonwealth Fund from 1995 through 2012, Davis spurred the development of policies that improve the nation’s health care overall, and particularly for the most vulnerable segments of the population—the poor, the elderly, and the disabled. Today, Davis continues to lead efforts to enhance Medicare benefits, improve care, and lower health system costs.

“Karen Davis has had an extraordinary career as a researcher, policy advisor and thought leader on a broad array of health issues,” says Marilyn Moon, Chair of the 2015 Robert M. Ball Award Selection Committee and winner of the 2014 Robert M. Ball Award. “Her work has been particularly insightful around Medicare and Medicaid issues where she has consistently worked to support and improve these programs by considering the impact of reforms in payment, structure and scope. She has been at the forefront of many of the substantive debates about the future of these two critical programs and of national health insurance.”

Currently the Eugene and Mildred Lipitz Professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, Karen Davis is also Director of the Roger C. Lipitz Center for Integrated Health Care at the Bloomberg School. The Center strives to discover and disseminate practical, cost-effective approaches to providing comprehensive, coordinated, and compassionate health care to people with complex care needs and their families. Members of Congress and the Administration turn to Davis to help them answer questions about the Medicare program, health care spending, and delivery systems for the uninsured and the chronically ill. She is also sought for her expertise on high-performing health care systems. In 2014, she was invited to join Senator Ben Cardin’s Health Advisory Group.

Karen Davis first joined the Commonwealth Fund in 1992, becoming President in 1995. As President of the Commonwealth Fund, she led the organization’s efforts to add much-needed data and research into health reform debates. She was primarily responsible for establishing the Fund’s Commission on a High Performance Health System. Through its work beginning in 2005, the Fund’s Commission helped to highlight the need for health reform and produced a set of recommendations early in the health reform discussion, many of which are reflected in the provisions of the current legislation. The Commonwealth Fund’s International Health Policy Program remains among the leading sources of information and analysis on international comparisons of health system performance, focusing on lessons that can be learned from other countries for application in the U.S. The Fund’s sponsorship of the Harkness Fellowships in Health Care Policy and Practice have promoted the exchange of information and expertise between the U.S. and other countries, while the Commonwealth Fund/Harvard University Fellowship Program in Minority Health Policy has opened doors for promising minority physicians to contribute to health policy—many of them have gone on to influential positions in federal and state and local government, academia, and the private sector.

Davis’s distinguished career in research and public policy spans government, academia, and philanthropy. Prior to serving as President of the Commonwealth Fund, Davis was Chairman of the Department of Health Policy and Management at The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. From 1977–1980, she was Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health Planning and Evaluation in the Department of Health and Human Services.  Davis was the first woman to head a U.S. Public Health Service agency. Her academic and research career includes positions as a visiting lecturer at Harvard University, an assistant professor of economics at Rice University, and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

A prolific researcher and writer, Davis is the author of several landmark books in health policy, as well as dozens of journal articles and numerous papers. Her books include: Health Care Cost Containment, Medicare Policy, National Health Insurance: Benefits, Costs, and Consequences, and Health and the War on Poverty.

“The Academy exists to further public understanding and informed policymaking, and Karen Davis's work clearly advances this mission. On behalf of the Board of Directors, I am delighted to recognize her ongoing contributions to advancing social insurance in the health arena for today’s workers and future generations,” said William J. Arnone, Chair of NASI’s Board of Directors.

Davis is an active leader across the health care policy world. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Geisinger Health System. Davis is an elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and was elected to the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in 1975. She has served two terms on the IOM governing Council (1986-1990 and 1997-2000), was a member of the IOM Committee on Redesigning Health Insurance Benefits, Payment and Performance Improvement Programs, and served on the IOM Committee on Geographic Variation in Health Care Spending. Davis is a member of the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured. She served on the Panel of Health Advisors for the Congressional Budget Office, and she is a former member National Advisory Committee of the Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research (AHRQ). She is an AcademyHealth distinguished fellow as well as past president of AcademyHealth (formerly AHSRHP).

In addition to the 2015 Robert M. Ball Award, Karen Davis is the recipient of numerous domestic and international awards. Davis received the American Hospital Association’s highest honor, the Distinguished Service Award, and she was recognized by AcademyHealth with their Distinguished Investigator Award. Davis is also the recipient of the Baxter-Alliance Foundation Prize for Health Services Research, the Healthcare Financial Management Association Board of Directors Award, and the Health Research and Educational Trust TRUST award. She is an honorary fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives and the Royal College of Physicians.

An active member of the National Academy of Social Insurance since 1990, Davis most recently co-chaired the Academy’s 27th annual conference, Medicare and Medicaid: The Next 50 Yearswith Sachin Jain and Susan Dentzer. This conference served as the official kick-off of the Academy’s year-long commemorative celebration of the passage of Medicare and Medicaid, Medicare and Medicaid at 50.

A native of Oklahoma, Karen Davis received her Ph.D. in economics from Rice University.