Holding a bachelor's degree in nursing from St. Joseph's College and an MS in business administration from the University of South Carolina, Carol Keehan is a Catholic nun who entered the Daughters of Charity Health System as a nurse in 1965. By 1969 she had worked her way up to an administrative position. In the early 1980s Keehan served as vice president for nursing, ambulatory care, and education and training at Providence Hospital in Washington, DC. From 1989-2004 she was president and CEO of that same facility.
In 2004 Keehan was named chairwoman of Ascension Health's Sacred Heart Health System in Pensacola, Florida, and was elected to chair the board of trustees of the Catholic Health Association of the United States (CHA). In October 2005 she became CHA's ninth president and CEO, a position she still holds.
From the start of her tenure with CHA, Keehan made it clear that expanding access to healthcare coverage for the uninsured was among her highest priorities. The key to achieving this goal, she believed, was to increase the role of government—rather than the free market—in the healthcare industry. Year after year, Keehan has consistently been in the top tier of the trade journal Modern Healthcare's “100 Most Powerful People in Healthcare.” In 2007 she ranked first on that list.
In 2008 Keehan was the subject of controversy in Catholic circles due to her support of two pro-abortion healthcare selections by president-elect Barack Obama: Tom Daschle as Health Secretary and Jeanne Lambrew as Deputy Health Care Director.
Following Obama's election, Keehan and CHA joined the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in objecting to the new administration’s decisions to allow federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research and to roll back a Bush administration policy protecting the conscience rights of healthcare providers, particularly with regard to coverage for contraception- and abortion-related services. But Keehan's objections were outweighed by her burning desire to pass some type of sweeping reform. Thus she played a major role throughout 2009-10 in promoting the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), lecturing widely on the subject and testifying before congressional committees.
On March 5, 2009, Keehan represented CHA at a White House Health Reform Summit where she joined other participants in calling for immediate reform. But even as it became evident that the Democrat proposals neither protected the conscience rights of healthcare providers nor prohibited public funding for abortions—anathema to the Catholic Church—Keehan, unlike the USCCB, pushed with ever-increasing urgency to pass a “comprehensive” reform bill designed to transfigure a healthcare system that she said had become “more and more dysfunctional over the past 60 years.”
By Keehan's reckoning, opponents of Obamacare were guilty of “fear-mongering” and spreading “misinformation” to a degree that was “unbelievable.” On one occasion, she cited “the nonsense about death panels” as “the most egregious example of the fear-mongering.” But in fact, Obamacare did establish a cost-cutting panel known as the Independent Payment Advisory Board composed of 15 unelected, presidentially-appointed bureaucrats empowered to reduce per-capita spending on Medicare in whatever way they saw fit, and to thereby reduce the care and treatment options available to seniors.
In a January 28, 2010 letter to the House of Representatives, Keehan urged passage of Obamacare, writing that “political realities and concerns” should not be allowed to “derail what may be the last opportunity of our lifetime to address the continuing shame of allowing so many individuals and families in our nation to go without access to affordable health care.” She repeated that plea a month later, stating that “[t]he price of inaction is simply too high to pay.”
In an interview with U.S. Catholic during the height of the Obamacare debates, Keehan, alluding to Catholic concerns that Obamacare might permit public funding of abortion-related services, twisted and expanded the commonly understood definition of “pro-life”: “For us as Catholics, it's very hard to be pro-life when we don’t give many, many mothers who are pregnant, care, or we don’t give pediatric care [to] 9 million uninsured children in this country. That's not pro-life.”
In March 2010 Keehan wrote an article in Catholic Health World assuring readers that Obamacare would not in fact permit public funds to be used to cover any abortion-related services. In a separate statement, she emphasized: “We are confident that the reform law does not allow federal funding of abortion and that it keeps in place important conscience protections for caregivers and institutions alike.”
Kansas City Archbishop Joseph Nauman chided Keehan for being either “incredibly naive or disingenuous” in making these claims. The USCCB and every major pro-life group in America warned that the new law, as written, clearly left open the distinct possibility of federal funding for abortions. (They were correct, as is explained here.)
When the President signed the Affordable Care Act into law on March 23, 2010, Keehan was photographed at his side. She was also given one of the pens that Obama used to sign the bill, and was credited by some lawmakers with having galvanized enough of the “Catholic vote” to win the day. As a testament to her enormous political clout, Keehan was named as one of TIME magazine's “100 Most Influential People in the World” that year. Nonetheless, she was not fully satisfied. “I would not call the legislation that finally passed completely comprehensive because it leaves a lot of gaps,” Keehan said, “but it is a good first step.” “We couldn't afford to forgo the good and wait for the perfect,” she elaborated. “If we had waited for perfect legislation, a lot of people would suffer for many more years.”
In Jauary 2014 Keehan spoke out in praise of Obamacare, saying: “We cannot let [opponents'] political rhetoric drown out [the law's] success stories or block families from receiving coverage. We must continue to push for Medicaid expansion in all 50 states and work to eliminate obstacles to enrollment.”
As of 2012, Keehan's total yearly compensation from CHA, in salary and benefits, was $1,234,209.
For additional information on Carol Keehan, click here.