Michael Milken, the former junk bond billionaire turned philanthropist, was branded "the Man Who Changed Medicine" in 2004 by Fortune magazine for his work in funding medical research and the breakthroughs that ensued. Now, Milken hopes to impact health policy and public health education with an $80 million gift to George Washington University, the largest gift in the school's history.
Milken, along with Sumner Redstone, the executive chairman of the board at Viacom and CBS, recently announced the gift to GWU's young, but growing, school of public health. Half of the money—$40 million—will come from the Milken Institute, an economic think tank, to support what will be known as the Milken Institute School of Public Health. Another $30 million will come from a charitable foundation headed by Redstone to fund a prevention and wellness center.
The remaining $10 million will come from the Milken Family Foundation, headed by Milken and his brother, Lowell, to support GWU's dean of public health. Lynn R. Goldman heads the school, which will become known as the Michael and Lori Milken Dean of Public Health. The Milken Family Foundation funds projects in the areas of education, medical research, and Jewish culture, especially in the greater Los Angeles area.
The $80 million gift from Milken and Redstone is not just the largest gift in GWU's history. More than that, it is an $80 million strike aimed at the nerve center of the nation's health policy work. GWU is located only blocks from major federal agencies, global health organizations, and policy think tanks interested in crafting health care policy. Milken hopes his contribution will give the Milken Institute a greater presence in the nation's capital and a greater role in the continuing struggle over how to reform U.S. health care policy, moving beyond the Affordable Care Act.
Milken and Redstone both are prostate cancer survivors and credit excellent medical care, along with the willpower to make needed lifestyle changes, with keeping them alive. But while willpower is important, Milken pointed out that access to quality care is essential for fighting chronic conditions such as obesity and diabetes. These diseases cause the majority of deaths in the U.S. and account for the majority of health care costs.
"It's not only willpower," Milken told CBS. "You have to have access. You know, not everyone can afford blueberries every day, or raspberries, or have (medical care). I think one of the things we're very focused on is how can we create a lifestyle for people and lower socioeconomic groups that gives them a high quality of life."
The Milken-Redstone gift to GWU not only aids the growth of a public health school that will train generations of epidemiologists and other health specialists; it just may impact the dialogue over health care to put a focus on access and prevention.