Column: Kaiser Permanente CEO Bernard Tyson's death comes at a time of transition

Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

Bernard J. Tyson, chairman and CEO of the giant nonprofit Kaiser Permanente health system, died suddenly Sunday morning, Kaiser announced.

"Bernard was an exceptional colleague, a passionate leader, and an honorable man. We will greatly miss him," said Edward Pei, chairman of the executive committee of the Kaiser board. The board named Executive Vice President Gregory A. Adams as interim chairman and chief executive.

Tyson's death comes at an especially sensitive moment for the health system.

Kaiser reached a contract settlement with 85,000 workers, averting a threatened strike, just weeks ago. And it was facing a five-day walkout by some 4,000 mental health clinicians starting Monday. The walkout by members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers was postponed, union officials said Sunday, in observance of Tyson's passing. A new date was not announced.

Both disputes placed the system's 20-year reputation for collaborative labor relations in doubt.

Few healthcare entities play as large a role as Kaiser in California and across the nation. Kaiser is both a health insurer and health provider, owning its own hospitals and clinics and setting forth treatment protocols for its professional workforce.


Traditionally, the system made a distinction between conventional medicine and "Kaiser medicine," based on the argument that its integrated approach to patient treatment was superior to the fragmented structure of care outside the Kaiser umbrella.

Kaiser led all other insurers in California enrollment, at 8 million members in 2017, and in share of California revenue, with $54.6 billion.

A three-decade veteran of Kaiser management, Tyson, 60, presided over an appreciable increase in the Kaiser system's enrollment and financial strength since becoming CEO in 2013 and chairman a year later. The organization grew from 9.1 million members and annual revenue of $53 billion in 2013 to 12.3 million members and $79.7 billion in revenue at the end of 2018.

Tyson's posts placed him at the center of a healthcare economy undergoing wrenching change. His voice was important. In 2017, when several for-profit insurers such as Aetna were bailing out on the Affordable Care Act, Tyson made clear that Kaiser was intent on continuing to participate in the ACA's exchanges.


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