With Health Care for All
Stamina is exactly what Magaziner, 45, will need during the coming months. As chief architect of the Health Security Act that Clinton presented to Congress last month, he'll lake some hits. "This is a big, controversial bill," says Magaziner. "All of us will be punching bags." Adds Rep. Ron Wyden (D.-Oreg.), a health care advocate: "Ira understands that Clinton Presidency is on the line."
Magaziner—second in command to Hillary Rodham Clinton on the health care task force—now spends his time tirelessly explaining and promoting the managed-competition plan designed to guarantee that all Americans will receive a minimum standard of care. All employers will be required to cover their workers, and the 37 million people without insurance will be assigned to regional health programs. As the plan's main author, Magaziner has gained a reputation as the wonk's wonk. "He's got an iron butt," says one aide. "He can sit in a chair forever and subsist on junk food and intellectual food." While the First Lady advanced the program, Magaziner labored on the nuts and bolts. "He enjoys being behind the scenes, the brains behind the brawn," notes one insider. "Hillary provides plenty of muscle."
Like Clinton himself, Magaziner grew up far from the corridors of power. His father, Louis, a New York City bookkeeper for a tomato wholesaler, and his mother, Sylvia, struggled to provide Ira and his sister, Sheila, with opportunities they had missed. "The emphasis was on education as a path to a better life," Magaziner says. Louis worked a second job in a bank. "We ate lots of spaghetti," recalls Magaziner.
At Brown University in Providence Ira—who was elected president of his class all four years—developed a knack for business. He established a firm that hired out students as temporary workers and used the profits to fund activities like a spring-break festival featuring James Brown and the Yardbirds. "We had the best collection of stars pre-Woodstock," he says proudly. As an undergraduate, Magaziner wrote a 425-page report calling for students to have more freedom in course selection. Brown adopted his ideas, and they became a model—albeit a still controversial one—for reform around the country.
After graduation, Magaziner won a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford, where he met Bill Clinton—a kindred spirit on the issues of civil rights (pro) and the Vietnam War (con). But unlike the gregarious Clinton, Magaziner never fell comfortable among the privileged students at the British university and spent most of his time reading books rather than socializing. After brief Stint working on an urban renewal project in Brockton, Mass., in the early '70s, Magaziner joined the Boston Consulting Group, developing long-term strategies for corporations.
It was there he began courting coworker Suzanne McTigue, a Harvard-trained lawyer and MBA. "I met Ira at work," says Suzanne, 41, with a laugh. "Where else would you meet Ira?" In 1979 in Rhode Island, the couple started their own consulting company, called Telesis (the ancient Greek word for "intelligently planned progress"). They married two years later. Besides serving corporate clients, Magaziner designed a complex reform package for Rhode Island's economy featuring new taxes to fund investment in industries such as robotics and computers—a plan resoundingly rejected by voters. He sold Telesis for $6 million in 1988 in order to concentrate on public policy projects. Suzanne now looks after their children. Seth, 10, Jonathan, 8, and Sarah. 5, in their $1.2 million Washington home. Last year, Magaziner worked behind the scenes as an issues adviser to the Clinton campaign.
Ultimately, Magaziner sees reforming the $900 billion health care industry as a matter of common sense and common decency, though the task force angered some advocates by refusing to replace insurance companies with a federally funded system. "Health is fundamental and should be something everyone feels secure about," he says. Despite the political punch-up in the offing, he remains confident that reform will happen. It "may not be perfect, but it's a lot better than the status quo," he says. "And we're going to get it accomplished."
LINDA KRAMER in Washington