ANDREW SLAVITT – ADVISOR TO PRESIDENTS
The January/February 2023 issue of The Pennsylvania Gazette (Gazette) featured an unprecedented in length article of eight pages bringing attention to the accomplishments of Andrew Slavitt, Beta Pi ’85, C ’88, W ’88, on his mission to bring available and affordable healthcare, in both the public and private sectors, to the American people.
After graduating from Penn, brother Slavitt earned an MBA from Harvard and began his career in financial services at Goldman Sachs. In 1998, he learned that a fraternity brother, Dr. Jeff Yurkofsky, Beta Pi ’85, was suffering from brain cancer that led to his death only months later. His death left his family in severe financial straits due to a large medical care debt that was not covered by his health insurance. Brother Slavitt shared his home with the Yurkofsky family until they were able to gain financial stability. This incident had a profound effect on brother Slavitt. It provided the impetus to redirect his career toward the health sector of the United States economy.
In matters of healthcare, brother Slavitt explained his mission to the Gazette,”I have one thing I care about…Making this country better for the people who have been ignored for too long”.
In 1999, he founded HealthAllies, a company focused on persuading doctors and hospitals to provide medical services at a lower cost to anyone lacking sufficient health insurance. He served as CEO of HealthAllies until 2003 when the company was purchased by UnitedHealth Group. He remained with UnitedHealth Group, serving as CEO of Optum Insight and as executive vice president for Optum, both divisions of UnitedHealth Group.
When President Obama’s desire to bring affordable healthcare to the American people via Healthcare.gov showed signs of failing, brother Slavitt’s Optum unit was brought on in 2013 to establish Healthcare .gov as a fully functioning website. The Federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator described brother Slavitt as a “key part of our leadership team to help millions of Americans get affordable health insurance in a whole new way”.
In recognition of his fine work, brother Slavitt was appointed Principal Deputy Administrator of CMS in 2014. He became the Acting CMS Administrator in 2015. Upon his appointment, he made one of his priorities to be the institution of quality medical services in rural and underserved urban areas. Besides leading CMS in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), popularly known as Obamacare, President Obama also appointed him to the Heroin Task Force and as a member of Vice President Joe Biden’s Cancer Moonshot task force.
When the ACA came under attack in 2017 by Republicans in Congress, brother Slavitt galvanized opposition to its repeal by traveling across the country organizing and appearing at Town Hall events to discuss healthcare directly with the American people. In the end, the attempt to repeal Obamacare was not successful.
After Donald Trump became President, the American public was faced with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Brother Slavitt contradicted claims by the Trump administration, early on in the spread of the disease, that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) were able to adequately contain the spread of the disease. He also predicted the oncoming shortage of hospital beds and ventilators necessary to treat victims of the pandemic.
However, when it came to consideration of healthcare for the masses, brother Slavitt took a bipartisan approach. He highly praised the Trump administration for its ability to develop vaccines for COVID-19 in “record time” and that this accomplishment was a “great thing”. During the Trump years, he was frequently asked for, and did provide, advice to the Trump White House.
Brother Slavitt helped in beginning the Trump administration’s initial phased reopening plan, but was critical that the reopening did not address increased testing and contact tracing for COVID-19. Accordingly, he became one of 16 public healthcare officials and scientists that launched an effort to secure $46. 5 billion in congressional funding that would expand contact tracing, create self-isolation facilities, and provide income support to Americans in financial need after having contracted COVID-19.
In April 2020, brother Slavitt began a biweekly podcast, “In the Bubble with Andy Slavitt”, to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Often with the help of well-known guests including, but not limited to, Senator Chuck Schumer (NY), Tina Fey, Pete Buttigieg, Judd Apatow, Bernie Sanders, and former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, he provided vital information about the disease. All proceeds from listener donations went toward COVID-19 relief efforts.
When Joe Biden became President, brother Slavitt joined Biden’s coronavirus team as Senior Advisor. In this capacity, he regularly briefed the news media on the Biden administration’s public health efforts. Areas of concern, such as availability of vaccines and the increased production of home tests, were subjects of his scheduled public appearances.
As an authority on COVID-19, with expertise garnered through three presidencies, brother Slavitt authored the definitive book on the subject, Preventable: The Inside Story of How Leadership Failures, Politics, and Selfishness Doomed the U.S. Coronavirus Response (debut June 15, 2021).
At Penn, brother Slavitt was active at all time with Beta Pi and was a resident of the Chapter House his sophomore year. All of Beta Pi should take pride in his spectacularly successful career in healthcare. The American people should be thankful for all brother Slavitt has done to combat COVID-19, limit the spread of the disease, and to aid those afflicted with the coronavirus.