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Q&A with Medicare Rights Board Member Curtis Cole, M.D.

Dr. Cole is the Chief Information Officer for Weill Cornell Medicine. He practices Internal Medicine at Weill Cornell and NYP. He is an Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine and Healthcare Policy & Research. As CIO, he is responsible for the Wood Library, core IT infrastructure, software and web development groups, the user support organization, telephony, and enterprise applications including ERP and EMR. Dr. Cole recently participated in the following Q&A with Medicare Rights:

Q: How did you first learn about the Medicare Rights Center, and what attracted you about the organization to become a board member?

A: I first learned about the Medicare Rights Center from a colleague, Gerry Goodrich, who is also on the board. I was immediately interested due to the mission and reputation. But I also mentioned the idea to my sister and she told me she knew Medicare Rights very well. She works for a nonprofit in Massachusetts that helps Medicare recipients understand their bills. She has used Medicare Rights’ training tools and resources and told me they were fantastic.

Q: You are coming up on your two-year anniversary as a board member. What have you learned about the organization that you didn’t anticipate?

A: When I joined I did not appreciate the sophistication of the advocacy work at Medicare Rights. I knew they did a lot but I didn’t realize how essential Medicare Rights is to the national conversation about Medicare.

Q: How does your research and work with data technology in health care—as well as your primary care work—overlap with Medicare Rights’ work and the needs of people with Medicare?

A: I am currently very focused on the secondary use of clinical and claims data for research. Over the past decades we have gone from having very little reliable, structured health care data to an overwhelming quantity. This is great for improving care, but it is also very useful for research into the next generation of care. Medicare data is among the best since their rules are published and they are more consistent in how they handle individual patients and providers than any other payer. Many of the initiatives that jeopardize the future of Medicare often also jeopardize how their data can be used for science. So I see Medicare Rights as an important—if indirect—advocate for the work I do academically.

Q: What challenges do you see for the Medicare program in the years ahead, and what do you anticipate Medicare Rights’ role to be in alleviating those challenges?

A: Medicare is an obvious target for the critical challenges that face every part of government, and the country in general. The widespread attack on public funding, public service, and public integrity affect all parts of government. But as one of the most successful and most efficient programs in government history, Medicare is an essential target for those who seek to discredit liberal democracy. Preserving Medicare is the core mission of Medicare Rights. But it has even more meaning now that all forms of fair and efficient governance are under assault.

Q: Have you ever referred anyone to our services or used our educational materials yourself?

A: I have referred patients, friends, and family to Medicare Rights. I aspire to take some of the Medicare Interactive Pro courses myself. But I fear I may have to wait until I retire to find the time. And then it might be too late!

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