Dr. Harris Berman
headshot of Dr. Harris Berman

Dr. Harris Berman

Berman honored for pioneering work in managed care

Dr. Harris Berman, CEO of Tufts Health Plan and a pioneer in managed care, is being honored by Modern Physician magazine as the recipient of the first Physician Executive Lifetime Achievement Award.

Berman, clinical professor of medicine at Tufts, will leave the helm of the HMO this summer to become chairman of Tufts School of Medicine's Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, replacing Dr. Anthony Robbins, who has resigned. Dean emeritus Morton A. Madoff, the department's first chair, is acting as interim chair until the transition is complete.

The lifetime achievement award is sponsored by the American College of Physician Executives, Cerner Corp. and Modern Physician magazine.

Berman, 64, was born and raised in New Hampshire. He graduated from Harvard College and Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons.

In 1971, he co-founded the Matthew Thornton Health Plan in Nashua, N.H.—one of the first health plans in New England that offered an alternative to traditional indemnity medical insurance. The idea was to form a multi-specialty medical group that offered insurance based on prepayment. It would be a not-for-profit organization controlled by a lay board of directors. The group included midwives, nurse practitioners and physician assistants, and later, a psychiatrist, dietitian and podiatrist.

"All of those things which now sound rather ho-hum, in the late 1960s and early 1970s were very controversial—and it all worked," said Dr. James Squires, a co-founder of Matthew Thornton Health Plan and president of the Endowment for Health in New Hampshire. "Harris is extremely efficient; his organizational skills are tremendous. He works incredibly hard himself, thus to work with him and for him is not too arduous. He fostered a common bond among us all."

Berman became active in a number of organizations dealing with insurance and managed care issues at the national level. Meanwhile, he influenced global health care as a consultant for the U.S. Agency for International Development in Russia, Hungary, Pakistan, Indonesia and Jamaica.

His motive was always the same. "He has a desire to reach out to people who are less fortunate and develop new and different ways to address the world's problems," Squires said.

Since Berman became CEO of Tufts Health Plan in 1986, membership has grown from 60,000 to more than 900,000. Under his leadership, Tufts became one of the first HMOs to offer preventive benefits such as fitness center memberships, smoking cessation programs and nutrition classes.

"What stands out is his very thoughtful and very effective manner of leadership," said Karen Ignani, president of the American Association of Health Plans, who has worked closely with Berman. "He listens. And he has always believed in coalitions. He is great at developing alliances, at influencing individuals with the power of his intellect as well as his passion for the issues."