Next Things First

Remembering Rick Carlson by Rob Coppedge
February 19, 2009, 9:27 am
Filed under: health policy, seattle market | Tags: , , ,
Rick J. Carlson

Rick J. Carlson

We were shocked to receive the news that our good friend and colleague Rick Carlson passed away last week. He will certainly be missed – as most good friends are – but the impact of losing Rick will run deeper. He was a living reservoir of experiential knowledge of the health care system’s experiment with managed care. He had seen the good and the bad – and was not afraid to point out the ugly, even in his own contributions to the system.

I would often introduce Rick as an architect of the HMO Act and the guy who “named” health maintenance organizations. “I am still living that down,” he’d retort.

Despite his ability to effortlessly list (and list and list) the failings of the current system, he was a close advisor to many of the biggest players in the business. His Rolodex was deep and full of friends – he often counseled me on the importance of actively cultivating and investing in one’s network. He was always early. He always followed up. He said it was because he was Swedish, but I haven’t met any other Swedes like Rick.

He was extremely excited about the changes on the horizon for the health care system – and spoke often of what he called the “Next Health Care Delivery System” where innovation focused on service delivery and treatments were assessed for comparative effectiveness. In the Next System, we would get back to managing the care of patients and use technologies to empower patients with the information they need to take better care of themselves. It was for him the logical extension of what he and his colleagues had attempted to build in the 1970s.

I valued Rick’s professional counsel and was honored when he joined Faultline Venture’s advisory board. He was excited to jump into the activities of the firm – helping communicate the exciting opportunities in the health care market to potential investors and advise early stage companies how to avoid the potholes he had seen. But more than that, he was a wonderful friend. He was one of the first calls I made when we decided to move to Seattle (“Great idea… its the right time”) – and has provided counsel on a range of subjects that he knew well (little local restaurants, great cups of coffee, amazing hiking trails, etc). Rick took an interest in us and we have been so much the better for it.

Many of us will feel the void his loss has left, and not just those who knew him well. It is the loss to the young health care entrepreneur that won’t have the value of Rick’s counsel that worries me most. I’d love to tell him that he was the one that got us into this mess and he has to stick around to help us get out. However, as I survey all the lives he has touched and careers he has influenced and friends who will carry his memory, I believe maybe he’s done just that. Now it is up to us to build the Next Health Care System.


Rick J. Carlson, a renowned health consultant and one of the prime architects of the “Health Maintenance Organization Program” (HMO) died of a heart attack on Friday February 13th. Rick, who lived with his family in Aspen for twenty years had an impressive, illustrious and full career.  Born in 1940 in Minneapolis, Minnesota

Rick went to St. Olaf College and then went on to receive his JD at the University of Minnesota.

In 1968 Rick joined the Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies (currently Interstudy of Minneapolis, Minnesota) as a research attorney where he drafted the legislation which initiated the health maintenance organization movement across the country.  Following this work he was invited to be a Visiting Fellow at the “Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions” in Santa Barbara, California and during his 18 month tenure there he published his first book, THE END OF MEDICINE, which was a seminal book in the health field.  His work at the Center on issues pertaining to law and justice led to his writing his second book, THE DILEMMAS OF PUNISHMENT in 1976.

While living in California Rick served as the chairman of the California governor’s Council on Wellness and Physical Fitness and became the first director of the California Trend Report Project.  Over the years Rick worked as a consultant to major institutions in the healthcare industry, such as the Blue Cross/Blue Shield Associations of America, the America Hospital Association, the Health and Human Services Administration, the MacArthur Foundation and others.  In 1978 Rick authored THE FRONTIERS OF SCIENCE AND MEDICINE and in 1985 co-authored with Clement Bezold THE FUTURE OF WORK AND HEALTH.  From 1987 to 1990 he served as President and Chief Executive Officer of NewHealth Centers/PPP Inc which worked in the development and establishment of Primary Prevention Program Centers and state-of-the-art risk assessment systems.  In addition Rick was “Of Counsel” to Epstein, Becker & Green, P.C., a law firm with offices across the U.S..  Rick also served as the President and CEO of HealthMagic, a healthcare technology company headquartered in Denver and was Vice Chairman of Age Wave Health Services located in the San Francisco Bay area.

In 1987 Rick co-authored ISSUES AND TRENDS IN HEALTH with Brooke Newman and in 2002 co-authored with Gary Stimeling THE TERRIBLE GIFT, an assessment of the promises and perils of biotechnology.

In 2001 Rick became Clinical Professor Policy Programs Department of Health Services and Affiliate Professor Department of Pharmacy, School of Public Health at the University of Washington, Seattle.

Rick’s enormous body of work was an impressive accomplishment but his absolute greatest achievement in life was as an extraordinary loving, devoted, wonderful father to his four children Blue (Gyorgy), Joey, Josh and Rebecca, and his step-children Nikos and Samantha Hecht.
He will be dearly missed at the Aspen Ice Garden where he spent many an hour proudly watching Blue and Joey playing hockey.  And, indeed he will be missed by the hundreds of people he deeply influenced and touched personally.

The date for a memorial service will be announced within a few weeks.


60 Comments so far
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Although I knew Rick for only a short period of time, perhaps a year, I will miss his freely given advice and counsel, his warm and endearing smile, and his encouraging words in the face of the business challenges I faced. No doubt, there are many others who knew him longer and therefore can attest to greater value from the relationship with Rick.

Comment by Cliff Chirls

We at Epstein Becker & Green, PC, mourn Rick’s loss as we celebrate his life. Rick spent a period of his professional life as counsel to our firm and even longer as a consultant on a variety of health care projects and ventures. There was no more energetic and incandescent mind in the field than Rick’s and, especially as we are moving into a time when many of our national health policies and programs are being reevaluated, we shall miss Rick greatly.

Comment by Stuart Gerson

[…] Rick liked to think big thoughts about the future of health care — far enough in the future that current rules of the system applied only loosely and where he had more freedom to think creatively and imaginatively about opportunities to effect positive change. He also was an expert of the hard realities facing our current health system and the difficulty of having anything turn out like you hoped it would. After all, Rick was one of the principal architects of the Health Maintenance Organization (or “H.M.O.”). When introducing Rick to others, I would always lead with this distinction, just to provoke his good nature (as others did too, I see). […]

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[…] Uncategorized Today in Seattle, the memory of health care thought leader and industry veteran Rick Carlson was celebrated by a room full of friends, family and colleagues.  Around the room, Rick’s […]

Pingback by Remembering Rick Carlson - In His Own Words « Next Things First

Today, in search of a possible ‘futurist’ speaker for a health care session, I thought of my law classmate Rick Carlson. This web piece broke the news of his death last year to me, a most unpleasant and stunning surprise. For those who knew him so well over the last four decades, much sympathy.
But the memories it evoked. Of not only the days in Law School at Minnesota in which he and several others of us ‘rescued’ the local chapter of Delta Theta Phi from the dungeon of eviction from campus. And how he led the conditions of our doing so to include nearly zero of the then current fraternity conditions–handshakes, house rules, etc. His class work was outstanding, forecasting the professional life he thereafter pursued so very well.
Most prominently in the memory bank was my reaching out to Rick at the start of our careers, in 1972, when he keynoted the fifth Annual Meeting of the American Society of Hospital Attorneys in New Orleans. Being responsible for the entire three day program, I needed someone who could address some of the future of healthcare to the fledgling gathering of attorneys who knew very little about the health law work we were doing and would be called upon to address as the health law field literally exploded. His work on the HMO concepts drew me to him and his presentation that day left all of us wiser, if not only numb from concerns about the challenges. He was prophetic then, and clearly continued for the remainder of his life. I wish our trails could have more often crossed.

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