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Health care? He's got it covered.

By Lois Romano
Monday, November 2, 2009

Drew Altman landed at the Kaiser Family Foundation in 1990 with a huge mandate: Rebuild the sleepy grant-making organization, shake up its staff, and revitalize its mission. Two decades later, the chief executive and president has positioned the nonpartisan operation as a leading voice and vast repository for facts and figures on health-care issues and the reform debate.

What Altman doesn't do anymore is give out money -- but instead spends it on independent research.

Want to know the minutiae of the multiple reform bills knocking around the Hill? The foundation's Web site can deliver detailed comparisons.

What about the cost of insurance premiums in five years? The foundation has it.

What do people think about a government-sponsored insurance option? The foundation's tracking poll has it week to week.

"We don't want to become combatants in the fray. . . . We want to control health-care costs, we want to improve the quality of health care and we want everybody covered," Altman said in an interview last week. (Other than being started by the same family, the foundation and health-care giant Kaiser Permanente have no connection.)

When Altman arrived at Kaiser, the foundation was giving away about $30 million annually in what he calls "conventional" grants. Having worked for Democrats and Republicans, Altman understood the power of special interests and the amount of money that could be spent by partisans to influence the debate.

For Kaiser to have an influential voice, Altman concluded that it would have to trade in information -- not money.

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