26 of the most controversial people in healthcare

Controversy is ubiquitous in the healthcare industry as legislation and regulations change and patient care evolves. At the center of many of these controversies tends to be a strong-willed individual championing for their cause or company.

Here are 26 of the most controversial people in healthcare today as selected by our editors.

Note: Becker's Hospital Review publishes a variety of news pieces and lists featuring individuals in the healthcare industry. While Becker's Hospital Review often recognizes individuals and organizations for various reasons, Becker's Hospital Review does not endorse any individual's, political party's or organization's actions or opinions. While all are controversial figures, we at Becker's think very highly of some of these individuals and not so highly of others.

 The names below appear in alphabetical order.

1. Ted Cruz
U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is the first Latino to hold the office in Texas and is the vice chairman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Although he has not made himself a popular man in Washington, Sen. Cruz is a possible GOP candidate for president in 2016. In a 2013 edition of GQ, Sen. Cruz was referred to as "The Distinguished Wacko Bird from Texas," who was becoming "the most despised man in the U.S. Senate."

During the early discussions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Sen. Cruz vowed to push for its defunding and continues to do so after its implementation, a stance once supported by much of the Republican Party. Most recently during a speech at the Road to Majority Conference, fearing "even greater" threats on religious liberty, Sen. Cruz called out President Barack Obama's administration for fighting legal battles against both Hobby Lobby and Little Sisters of the Poor.

2. Don Berwick
Don Berwick, MD, served as the CMS administrator under President Obama from 2010 through 2011. Prior to that, he spent 20 years as president and CEO of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. A pediatrician, Dr. Berwick practices at Boston Children's Hospital and consults in pediatrics at Massachusetts General Hospital. He also recently entered the political arena announcing a run for the Democratic candidate in the gubernatorial race in Massachusetts. Much of his healthcare platform refers to his experience with the industry and deep understanding of how "good care could be."

Dr. Berwick is credited to developing the concept the "Triple Aim" — better care for individuals, better health for populations and reducing per-capita costs. He was constantly attacked by the Republican Party for his outspoken admiration of Britain's National Health Service which he regarded an "example" for the U.S. to follow. The New York Times went as far as to call Dr. Berwick "a symbol of all that Republicans dislike in President Obama's health care policies."

3. Leah Binder
Leah Binder is the president and CEO of Leapfrog, an organization that aims to help healthcare consumers make informed decisions by releasing information concerning provider organizations' safety, quality and affordability.

Leapfrog has been criticized for its narrow focus on patient safety without recognizing other possible indicators of care quality, such as process of care and clinical outcomes.

In 2012, Leah Binder authored an article defending her company's system for scoring hospitals for safety, saying that she and her coworkers anticipated backlash from hospitals they deemed as performing poorly. She described their expectations as four main strategies most likely to be used by the poorly reviewed hospitals: shooting the messenger, complaining that the measures and methods aren't fair, dismissing the scores as outdated information and pointing to others who disagree with Leapfrog's assessment of their hospital.

4. Ezekiel Emanuel
Ezekiel Emanuel, MD, a medical ethicist and oncologist is considered a main architect and long time supporter of the PPACA. He is the brother of President Obama's former Chief of staff and current mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel.

Although he is lauded by his supporters for his publications concerning the ethics of clinical research, end-of-life care issues, euthanasia, the ethics of managed care and the physician-patient relationship, Dr. Emanuel endures wide criticism and has received such epithets as the "deadly doctor" — a term used to describe him in a 2009 New York Post article by Betsy McCaughey that went viral. In it, Ms. McCaughey described Dr. Emanuel as someone who wanted to limit medical care for a "grandmother with Parkinson's or a child with cerebral palsy."

More recently, Dr. Emanuel expressed a highly contested position in The New York Times in favor of narrower networks. He wrote an opinion editorial, "In Health Care, Choice is Overrated," in which he argues — amidst many objections — that narrow networks are not necessarily to be equated with poor quality.

5. Judith Faulkner
Judith Faulkner is the founder and CEO of the $1.7 billion Epic Systems — a leading electronic health record software for mid-size and large medical groups, hospitals and integrated healthcare organizations. In 2013, Forbes called the entirely self-made Ms. Faulkner, "The Most Powerful Woman in Healthcare."

With EHRs becoming standard through the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act, complaints of cost have become fairly common and operational losses are not unheard of for hospitals and health systems adopting an Epic EHR. Epic has also been accused of being difficult to integrate with third-party vendors.

6. Atul Gawande
Atul Gawande, MD, PhD, is a practicing endocrine surgeon, journalist and professor at both the Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School.

In 2012, Dr. Gawande wrote a provocative piece for The New Yorker suggesting that medicine should become more like The Cheesecake Factory — more standardized with better quality and a small amount of room for customization and innovation. The standardization of medicine or the assertion that for most conditions there should be a clear set of guidelines — or even algorithms — that guide care is criticized by some physicians because the theory undermines the autonomy of the physician as well as undercuts physicians' intelligence.  His critics have referred to his concepts as the "commoditization" of healthcare and argue such an approach would be detrimental to the cornerstone of healthcare; the autonomous physician.

7. Charles Grassley
Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) helped create the Physician Payment Sunshine Act, included in the final version of PPACA. Much to the chagrin of many physicians and healthcare companies, the act requires that any "payment or other transfer of value" of $10 or more to physicians and teaching hospitals must be reported to the United States Department of Health and Human services. He is often disliked by Republicans for siding with the President Obama on several issues.

Supporters consider the act to elucidate potential conflicts of interest and lower health costs; however, physicians are not only threatened by the new enforced transparency, but are also struggling to find a balance between that transparency and what some consider cumbersome paperwork under the Act. The Sunshine Act has also caused many surgeons to rethink their industry relationships now that device and other related companies will be reporting gifts and meals in addition to speaking and consulting fees.

8. David Green
David Green is the CEO of the Oklahoma-based craft store, Hobby Lobby. Mr. Green recently won a Supreme Court Case, Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby, asserting that closely held businesses, such as Hobby Lobby, that hold religious objections to certain forms of birth control, can deny contraceptive coverage for their employees under federal law. The 5-4 decision is the result of David Green and his company taking on the PPACA, which as written requires that employers include a set of preventive services in their employees' healthcare plans if they offer healthcare benefits including FDA-approved contraceptives.

"In a decision of startling breadth, the Court holds that commercial enterprises including corporations, along with partnerships and sole proprietorships, can opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs," Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg wrote in her 35-page dissent. She also declared that the Court had "ventured into a minefield" with its decision to side with Hobby Lobby.

9. Stephen Hemsley
Stephen Hemsley is CEO of UnitedHealth and is listed as one of the top ten highest-paid CEOs in the United States. Mr. Hemsley is known for being wary of UnitedHealth's participation in the new market exchanges that resulted from the PPACA and is entering into them slowly if at all.

UnitedHealth is also known for being a cost leader amongst payors making them more challenging for providers to work with.  Most recently, according to company officials, Mr. Hemsley's company plans to cut up to 700 Massachusetts physicians from its physician network for seniors enrolled in its private Medicare plan as a way to control costs.  

Featured on Sick for Profit, a media outlet aimed at exposing the CEO's of the largest health insurance companies, Mr. Hemsley is berated for his high salary and stock options.

10. Mary Kay Henry
Mary Kay Henry represents healthcare workers through her work as international president of the Service Employees International Union. She is the first female to lead the union. She and SEIU have been leaders in organizing healthcare unions.  

During her work with SEIU, she has been lauded in her efforts regarding the organization's use of card check agreements, non-traditional collective bargaining agreements, comprehensive campaigns and system-wide healthcare organizing strategies.

In a recent column of USA Today, Ms. Henry partnered with Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, to warn against "[opening] the door to a multitude of religious objections that could upend basic workplace rights," if SCOTUS ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby in the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case. After SCOTUS did rule in favor of Hobby Lobby, Ms. Henry joined Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, in accusing the five conservative Supreme Court justices who supported Hobby Lobby of devaluing working American women and giving corporations a "free pass to discriminate against anyone in the name of religion."

11. Karen Ignagni
Karen Ignagni is president and CEO of America's Health Insurance Plans. She has long been the voice of health insurance plans, representing payers in healthcare, long-term care, dental and disability benefits to more than 200 million Americans. She is widely regarded by the payor industry and well respected even if not liked by other provider organizations.

Ms. Ignagni tends to fluctuate in her support of the PPACA. She has spoken out against various aspects of the PPACA, such as the law's excise tax on health insurance providers and the need for lower-tier health plans in the PPACA. She has voiced recently that her main concern with the PPACA lies more in the balance of healthy to sick people, not how many people are signing up for their age.

12. Sandeep Jauhar
Sandeep Jauhar, MD, is a practicing cardiologist, the director of the Heart Failure Program at the Long Island (New York) Jewish Medical Center and a regular writer for The New York Times.

In April of 2014, Dr. Jauhar wrote an impassioned op-ed entitled "Nurses are not Doctors." Although the title speaks for itself, Dr. Jauhar discusses his problem with promoting nurse practitioners as a "cost-effective way to meet [the need for primary care physicians]," because it "[underestimates] the clinical importance of physicians' expertise."

Angela Golden and Kenneth Miller, the co-presidents of American Association of Nurse Practitioners, a professional membership organization, took issue with Dr. Jauhar's op-ed and responded that his concerns were "unfounded" and that decades of "third-party research have shown that nurse-practitioner outcomes are equivalent to those of physicians."

13. David Koch
David Koch, controversial conservative, co-owner and executive vice president of Koch Industries, a Wichita, Kan.-based firm that has its hand in oil refining, pipelines, commodities trading and paper pulp, is widely known for his Libertarian outlook. His views can be generalized into strong support for a free-market and a reduction in big government. He also is known for his financial support of the Tea Party movement. Mr. Koch also formerly led a charge against the PPACA. Despite his opposition to the law, he is a major philanthropist and throws his support behind several healthcare and medical causes.

Mr. Koch is on the board of trustees at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, to which he gave $25 million in 2009. David Koch also recently gave $100 million to New York Presbyterian Hospital in New York City to create an ambulatory center. The donation is the largest in the hospital's history.

Mr. Koch is scrutinized by many liberals for his generous contributions. Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid (D-Nev.), recently attacked David Koch and his brother Charles in the media accusing Senate Republicans of being "addicted to Koch" and calling the Koch brothers "un-American."

14. Marty Makary
Marty Makary, MD, is an associate professor of surgery at Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins and the surgical director at Johns Hopkins Pancreas Multidisciplinary Cancer Clinic. Dr. Makary wrote a highly controversial book titled "Unaccountable: What Hospitals Won't Tell You and How Transparency Can Revolutionize Health Care" about physician-led efforts to increase transparency and improve quality in healthcare.

As a researcher and health reform advocate, he is best known for his work on medical quality and patient safety. He heavily voices his support of minimally invasive surgery because of its low cost and substantially lower risk of serious complications.

Dr. Makary is known for exposing failings of the healthcare system from within pointing out problems with both the system as a whole and also with physicians themselves. "We need to change the culture of medicine," Dr. Makay said in an interview with ProPublica, noting that nearly half of medical care does not follow evidence-based protocols

15. Larry Merlo
Larry J. Merlo has been the CEO of CVS Caremark since March of 2011. CVS has been opening walk-in retail health clinics or MinuteClinics across the country. While some consider the openings of these clinics to be at the expense of family practices and other independent physicians, others contend that the clinics provide more convenient and accessible care.

Furthermore, CVS Caremark reportedly has the greatest disparity between CEO pay and the median wage of its employees among the highest-grossing companies in the U.S. Supporters of CVS, however, have applauded their new cigarette ban, which discontinues all tobacco sales at all of their retail locations.

16. President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States, has been heavily involved in controversial healthcare legislation throughout his presidency. He spearheaded the passage of the PPACA, which may have helped many uninsured individuals find health insurance, but also enraged many payers and providers with its lack of effectiveness and efficiency. His health reforms also created the State Health Insurance Exchanges, a sort of marketplace for patients to find payers.

In addition to the PPACA, there has been the ongoing scandal at the Department of Veteran Affairs in which a report confirmed allegations of long wait times and false record keeping resulting in the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki. Currently the Obama administration and federal government are working to resolve the issues in the report and improve veteran healthcare.

17. Neal Patterson
Neal Patterson is the founder, CEO and chairman of the board of Kansas City, Mo.-based Cerner. Neal Patterson is best know for building Cerner into a leading multibillion-dollar company and being a hard charging, no holds barred executive leader.

Mr. Patterson's company is in the midst of court-ordered arbitration in Kansas after a rural hospital system sued the company in 2010. In addition to the arbitration, Cerner paid settlement of $106 million to Trinity Medical Center in Minot, N.D., in March, to resolve allegations that the purchased software didn't function as promised.  

In 2001, Mr. Patterson made headlines after a notorious office memo he sent went viral. The memo included threats of layoffs, hiring freezes and the shutdown of the employee gym. The memo also suggested that managers "[did] not CARE" or know what their "EMPLOYEES" were doing. He also threatened that "hell [would] freeze over" before he gave out more employee benefits.

18. Nancy Pelosi
Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader (D-Calif.), a well-known supporter of the PPACA, was initially criticized for a controversial remark at the 2010 Legislative Conference for the National Association of Counties. At the conference Rep. Pelosi was cited as saying, "But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of controversy," which sparked outrage all over the country about government overreach and political arrogance. However, many of Rep. Pelosi's supporters felt the statement was taken out of context and that her true intentions lied in showing the country what the bill actually entailed versus the speculation and controversies sought out by the media.

She has further defended the PPACA and President Obama regarding a wave of health insurance policy cancellations. Many felt the new legislation was directly at fault for the cancellations, and Rep. Pelosi expressed that the President took more blame than he should have. She made a point to say that "the law does not demand that all of these cancellations go out," but that the insurance companies are making the choice to cancel the policies. Much of the public perceived that the administration had promised that insurance companies would not be able to cancel policies.

19. Harry Reid
Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is the U.S. Senate Majority Leader and an outspoken supporter of the PPACA. Sen. Reid was most recently admonished for attacking the political ads against the PPACA, one of which included a cancer patient.  In response to Sen. Reid's defense of the PPACA, Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell called the Democrats efforts "desperate" and the PPACA "a disaster for the country," in an interview with Fox News. Sen. Reid and Sen. McConnell are widely known for their open dislike for one another. Sen. McConnell declared that Sen. Reid "has done tremendous damage to the Senate," and has created a "graveyard of good ideas and serious open debate," during a speech at the American Enterprise Institute in May.

In response to the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision, Sen. Reid — like many of his democratic colleagues — vowed to protect the requirement that contraceptive care be covered by private companies regardless of religious views. "We will continue to fight to preserve women's access to contraceptive coverage and keep bosses out of the examination room," Sen. Reid told the Las Vegas Sun.

Sen. Reid has also been very outspoken concerning the Republican-backed lawsuit against President Obama. Sen. Reid slammed the Republicans, calling them "desperate" for attempting to sue the president over the PPACA and accused them of "[vilifying] the employer provision they themselves authored."

20. Paul Ryan
Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who serves as chairman for the House Budget Committee, has been widely outspoken against the PPACA. Also Mitt Romney's vice-presidential running mate in the 2012 presidential election, Rep. Ryan drafted legislation in 2009 entitled the Patient's Choice Act, which offered tax credits and other incentives to the private healthcare industry to create more competition that has become the basis for his healthcare political platform. The legislation is expected to characterize his healthcare platform if he runs for higher office.

The Republicans' 2015 budget, written by Rep. Ryan, proposes a repeal of the PPACA and broad changes to Medicare and the controversial proposal of subsidizing private health insurance for those 55 years old and younger. Vice President Joe Biden responded to the budget proposal saying that it reflects that "they tilted the tax code in favor of unearned income over-earned income, [and] inherited wealth over take-home pay."

Also, Rep. Ryan expressed his support of the Hobby Lobby SCOTUS ruling declaring it a "big win for religious freedom."

21. Rick Scott
Governor Rick Scott (R-Fla.) helped co-found Columbia Hospital Corporation which merged with the Hospital Corporation of America in 1989 and became Columbia/HCA. In 2000, Columbia/HCA pleaded guilty to 14 felonies and agreed to pay $840 million in fines in one of the largest fraud cases settled in the history of the Justice department. Although Gov. Scott resigned from Colubmia/HCA in 1997 and released a statement that he would have stopped the fraud from happening had he known it was going on, the settlement is a rallying point that many of his political opponents still use.

He is lauded by his supporters for his strong stance on creating jobs. In the past, Gov. Scott spoke out against President Obama's PPACA, asserting that it would kill jobs. Recently, however, he has been accused of dodging questions about the PPACA. In addition to his silence, Gov. Scott is also being criticized for his rejection of federal funding for Medicaid expansion. The White House Council of Economic Advisors released a study titled "Missed Opportunities" that provided a state-by-state analysis of how many jobs would be created by expanding Medicaid, in which Florida is said to have missed out on 63,800 jobs between 2014 and 2017.

22. Kathleen Sebelius
Kathleen Sebelius was the former Secretary of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services from 2009-2014. Ms. Sebelius announced her resignation after five years in the position, during which President Obama's PPACA rolled out. Her resignation came in the wake of the troubled launch of HealthCare.gov. "Secretary Sebelius was asked to promote something unsteady, poorly structured and unpopular," said Sen. Charles Grassley to the Washington Post in response to news of her resignation.

Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told The New York Times that Ms. Sebelius's resignation was "cold comfort to the millions of Americans who were deceived" about what the healthcare law would mean for them and their families.

23. Eric Shinseki
Former Army General Eric K. Shinseki is the former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Mr. Shinseki resigned from his post following the department's recent scandal in which VA employees attempted to hide months-long wait times facing veterans who sought care.

Due to the highly publicized scandal, nearly 25 senators signed a letter calling for his resignation. Many critics of the VA scandal have accused Mr. Shinseki and the rest of the VA leadership of being unable to enforce accountability. During the announcement of Mr. Shinseki's resignation, however, President Obama stressed that Mr. Shinseki was a person of integrity and that the VA was overwhelmed by two long wars and ultimately gave way to cheating in order to hide its shortcomings. Other supporters of Mr. Shinseki argue that the VA was much worse during the Vietnam era and that the quality of care delivered — once received — is much better today.

24. Peter Shumlin
Last year, Governor Peter Shumlin (D-Vermont) signed what many consider to be a revolutionary bill creating Green Mountain Care — a single payer system in which the state regulates physicians' fees and covers Vermonters' medical bills that is set to start by 2017. The plan could potentially cut employer-provided insurance plans and made plenty of people unhappy about giving up their satisfactory plans already in place. Gov. Shumlin also unveiled three accountable care organizations that participate in not only the Medicare Shared Savings Program but also have expanded to include Medicaid and commercial insurers. Gov. Shumlin is highly criticized for his lack of transparency, concealing information from the public and essentially violating part of the state's universal healthcare legislation stating that he must disclose the costs of a single-payer and the means by which the state will pay for it.

Gov. Shumlin was also recently commended by his supporters for helping to form a shared drug database in an effort to battle prescription abuse. He also signed S.295, a bill that addresses pretrial services. The bill aims to connect more people who end up in the criminal justice system with addiction treatment and other services.

25. Andy Stern
Andy Stern is the former president of Service Employees International Union serving from 1996 until 2010. Considered by The New York Times as the labor union's most "electrifying" and "polarizing" leader, Mr. Stern's resignation came after the successful election of President Obama and after his personal and professional goal of a major healthcare overhaul was finally realized.

Just months after his resignation, Mr. Stern was investigated by the FBI and U.S. Labor department as part of their probe of corruption within SEIU that resulted in a jail sentence for a California union leader.

Mr. Stern is now a Ronald O. Perelman Senior Fellow at New York City-based Columbia University and the director of AmericaWorks.

26. Kent Thiry
Kent Thiry is co-chairman and CEO of the kidney care division of DaVita HealthCare Partners. Mr. Thiry is known for making his employees sing the DaVita corporate song, "Oh DaVita!" and has been criticized for his company's cult-like tendencies.

In 2012, DaVita settled a whistle-blower lawsuit paying $55 million for fraud claims. The case came from a Texas lawsuit that accused DaVita of overusing Epogen, an anemia drug which had high costs and risks that helped change how the government paid for kidney care.

Furthermore, at the beginning of 2014, DaVita agreed to pay $389 million to settle federal investigations into some of the company's relationships with nephrologists.

Despite the lawsuits, DaVita has been recognized as a Top Workplace according to the Bay Area News Group for the second year in a row.

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