Diane Rowland: A Trusted Source

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Diane Rowland
Diane Rowland
If you keep abreast of Medicaid issues, chances are you have gained some of your knowledge from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Its Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured is arguably the nation's best source of information on the program.

And Diane Rowland, who has been executive director of the commission since 1991, may be the reason why.

“She's an outstanding communicator and has built an institution in terms of providing information to the press, academia and policymakers,” notes Judy Feder, former dean of graduate policy at the Georgetown University Medical Center, and a senior adviser to the commission. 

Rowland, who also serves as executive vice president of the Kaiser foundation, has opinions that specifically affect long-term care.

“If I could be the healthcare czar, I would say that Medicare ought to be a more comprehensive program and that we ought to create a separate, side program that does long-term care,” she says. 
These are not just musings. Some of her ideas over the years, such as Medicare savings programs, actually have become policy. 

Since the commission gears its research to Washington lawmakers, Rowland notes that her job requires “crystal ball vision” to determine key issues months, or even years, in advance.

“We try to be timely and opportunistic in our work to fit where the policy agenda is going,” she says.
Rowland, who oversees the foundation's policy initiatives, is involved in all aspects of research – from strategizing to proofing the final products. Last year, she reviewed almost 200 reports.

So … does she sleep? 

“I read a lot,” she laughs.

She says the most rewarding part of her job is producing high-quality work and knowing that her organization has a trusted reputation.

“We don't just produce reports that sit on shelves,” she notes. Peers agree. 

One of Rowland's strengths is her ability to translate complicated information about Medicaid for less knowledgeable Hill staffers.

“She has always had a unique sense of how a staff person either in the White House or Congress looks at this problem and what they need to know,” says James R. Tallon, president of the United Hospital Fund of New York and chairman of the Medicaid commission.

“She's a person who gets things done,” adds her friend and mentor Karen Davis, president of The Commonwealth Fund. “She's knowledgeable, articulate and organized, and has great interpersonal skills and brings people together across a broad political spectrum.” 

Rowland initially gained insider experience working under Davis at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She later worked for two committees in the U.S. House of Representatives. 

Her interest in policy germinated as a student at Wellesley College, where she took an elective course at a social service agency in the Roxbury section of Boston. She later pursued advanced degrees in health policy at UCLA and The Johns Hopkins University.

But there is more to Rowland than her researching abilities. When she is not poring over documents in the nation's capital, the Easton, CT, native may be found caring for her mother, who still lives in Rowland's childhood home. 

Perhaps not surprisingly, she is married to Brian Biles, a professor of health policy at George Washington University. They have two Cairn Terriers. 

She is “one of the nicest people in Washington,” notes Stephen McConnell, vice president of public policy for the Alzheimer's Association.

By virtue of her expertise, she also is a good person to know. McConnell cites one time a few years ago when he and Rowland were at a dinner talking about her mother, who had back surgery. McConnell commented that he, too, needed the surgery. Rowland proceeded to share her knowledge and recommended her mother's doctor. 

The doctor was “fabulous,” McConnell says. “The fact I am walking and functioning is because of her recommendations.”

Considering the source, he said, he knew he could trust the research and findings.