When Robert Eilers conceived the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics in 1967, the notion of a high-level institute that would bring together the Wharton School and Penn’s medical school to address the problems of health care was unheard of.
The Institute, a precursor to the Health Care Systems Department (the first such department created at a business school), was the brainchild of Eilers, professor of insurance at Wharton and community medicine at Penn’s School of Medicine. Eilers established the Institute to serve as a bridge between medicine and Wharton, realizing that an educational component was crucial to the Institute’s credibility within the School. That also meant creating an MBA major in 1970 — the first MBA program in health care management — and later undergraduate and doctoral concentrations, with the specific goal of training managers and analysts of health care systems.
“When he started the health care management program, the whole idea was to bring sound management and economic principles to health care, which up until that time had largely been insulated from them,” said Arnold J. Rosoff, Professor of Legal Studies and Health Care Systems. “Up until that point, anyone who talked money to doctors angered them.”
Through Eilers’ vision and energy, both ventures distinguished Penn as one of the first universities to advance interdisciplinary scholarship in the management and health sciences through a formal partnership between its business and medical schools.
On a national level, LDI had a major impact on the management of health care systems and set the standard for that field. Eilers was also an early architect of national health insurance policies and health maintenance organizations, writing much of President Nixon’s 1970 national health insurance plan while serving as special assistant to the President. He was a driving force on a team of three consultants to the Undersecretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, which developed Medicare, Part C. It was this team that coined the term “health maintenance organizations.”