"Bringing the Medicare prescription drug benefit to millions of people who never had that coverage before is tremendously rewarding," says Abby L. Block '79, who in 2005 was named director of the Center for Beneficiary Choices at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, where she manages both the Medicare Advantage and the Medicare Prescription Drug programs.
An insurance expert par excellence, Block ran the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program — the largest employer-sponsored health insurance program in the country — for 25 years. She joined the Office of Personnel Management in 1979 as a presidential management intern and started out covering a range of employee benefits before focusing on health insurance. "I've always been interested in health and social services," says Block, who earned an MSW from Columbia in addition to her MBA.
In her current role, Block focuses on getting the best deal for both taxpayers and beneficiaries. Private insurers receive more than $10 billion a month in combined payments from the Medicare Advantage and Medicare Prescription Drug programs. "It's an asset that I understand the business interests of the companies I'm contracting with as well as the financial interests of the government," Block says. "Ultimately, this is a business relationship."