Hard-Charging Doctor Adds Perspective to the President’s Health Care Team
WASHINGTON — Dr. Ezekiel J. Emanuel has always liked to shake things up.
As a high school senior, he did a little experiment in chemistry class to test the explosive potential of hydrogen gas exposed to a match. A flask burst with a bang, sending shards of glass flying around the classroom.
Since then, Dr. Emanuel has been challenging conventional wisdom, first as a medical student, then as a doctor and an expert on medical ethics.
He is at it again as a White House official trying to remake the health care system.
Dr. Emanuel is a special adviser to the budget director, Peter R. Orszag. He is also the older brother of Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff.
By all accounts, Dr. Emanuel is a powerful force in his own right. In an interview in his cubbyhole of an office, he said he got his job on his own, with no help from his brother. Rahm was “very conscious of the nepotism thing,” he said. Still, he is widely perceived as having extra clout because of his brother.
For two decades, Dr. Emanuel has been writing about how to guarantee health care for all. In White House discussions on health policy, he emphasizes the need to slash co-payments for preventive care and insists that patients should be able to keep their doctors even if they change insurance plans.
But some of his proposals, calling for vouchers, a value-added tax and an end to the system of employer-provided insurance, have differed radically from President Obama’s.
Joseph R. Antos, an economist at the American Enterprise Institute, said, “These are mighty spicy ideas — the opposite of what any politician would say unless he was completely intoxicated.”
Dr. Emanuel brings to the White House a physician’s perspective, which was generally missing from the last big effort to overhaul health care in 1993-94.
Mr. Orszag, himself keenly committed to health care as an economic issue, “has given me the opportunity to stick my nose into anything that’s health-related,” Dr. Emanuel said.
Like his brother, Dr. Emanuel is hyperkinetic and speaks in staccato bursts. The differences are also notable. Rahm, 49, is a practitioner of bare-knuckle politics. Zeke, 51, earned a Ph.D. in political philosophy while getting an M.D. at Harvard Medical School.
“Zeke is the intellectual Emanuel,” said Amy Gutmann, a political theorist who is president of the University of Pennsylvania.( Collapse )