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White House eying Cleveland Clinic's Toby Cosgrove to run VA

June 3, 2014

    Dan Diamond, Managing Editor

    In a Forbes cover story last year, Toby Cosgrove talked about trying to save his city. But is the Cleveland Clinic's CEO ready to save the scandal-plagued VA?

    The Wall Street Journal broke the news on Tuesday night that the White House is eying Cosgrove—an accomplished leader, surgeon, and military veteran—to run the Department of Veterans Affairs, and Cosgrove is reportedly "seriously considering" the position.

    The VA has been reeling since reports emerged in April that some veterans were placed onto a "secret list" at Phoenix's VA hospital and forced to wait months for care, which has led to an ever-widening inquiry into the VA's health system. (An interim report last week confirmed some of the troubling allegations.) VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned last week after more than 100 members of Congress called for him to step down.

    Related: Why Obama accepted Shinseki's resignation

    Cosgrove wasn't among the initial list of potential nominees that surfaced last week, Modern Healthcare notes—a list that was more focused on top military officials and legislators, like ex-Senator Jim Webb and Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno.

    But in many respects, Cosgrove would be a dream candidate for the tough-to-fill position of VA secretary:

    • He checks the boxes of having high-level management experience and enacting reforms to improve care and operations.
    • He's staked out a number of tough, unpopular positions (like saying that the Clinic would not hire smokers or even obese workers, if he had the legal power).
    • And Cosgrove has military experience, having served in Vietnam.

    He's also popular among Republicans, noted Matthew Herper, the Forbes writer who profiled Cosgrove last year.

    Related: Can Cleveland Clinic save a city?

    While Cosgrove famously strives to be apolitical, his wife was a donor to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2012. Romney also prominently praised the Clinic in one of the presidential debates that year.

    But Cosgrove and the Clinic have won many plaudits from President Obama, too—including high-profile praise at that very debate. That prompted the system to take out advertisements in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times that the candidates had found one issue of "no debate."

    Meanwhile, the Clinic's operations were repeatedly cited as a model for the Affordable Care Act—although Cosgrove has hesitated to commit his system to the law's high-profile delivery pilots. The Clinic has not yet joined Medicare's Accountable Care Organization program, for example.

    There's one other line on Cosgrove's resume that might appeal to Obama: Like the president and several other members of the administration, Cosgrove played college basketball and has spoken of its value in building leadership.

    However, there's one major variable still in play: The man at the center of the story hasn't weighed in. As of 8 p.m. ET, the Clinic had yet to confirm that Cosgrove had even been approached—and how seriously he'd want to join the White House's team.

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