I first came to learn the value of partnerships back in the early 1990s when I worked with the Medicare agency then called the Health Care Financing Administration (it’s now the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services). At that time, I managed a relatively small staff of around 10 or 12 individuals in their Denver office who were responsible for many “customer service” oriented tasks.

One of those tasks was doing outreach and education for Medicare beneficiaries in six states. To give some perspective to our challenge on our workload, there were about two or three of us that could spend our time keeping about 1 million Medicare beneficiaries informed about the program. When I first came to managing the unit, I discovered that most of our public outreach was “reactive” – some group would call us up and we would go out at their request and do a presentation. The typical outreach event had us speaking in church basements to around 10 people. Obviously, this was not very effective in reaching 1 million people!

Around this time, Congress passed a law that each state would designate an office that would coordinate a volunteer program counseling seniors on their Medicare benefits. This was a very tiny section of a very large health care bill and very few people paid attention to it. Even smaller was the amount of money allocated to this program – in many states just enough to cover the salary of one person. In what was probably one of the best decisions I ever made in my federal career, I saw the connection between the creation of these programs and my goal. I contacted the heads of these state programs and offered our assistance. I told my staff we would no longer do “church basement presentations” and that our limited outreach resources would be devoted to partnering with the state programs.

Two staff and I traveled around in six states assisting the local directors in both getting volunteers to serve as Medicare counselors and in the training of their volunteers in basics of the program. In time, our support and growth of the counseling programs in our six states and the benefits that it brought in public awareness led to our “Denver model” being adopted around the country. Today, these state health insurance counseling programs (SHIP programs) are a critical tool in the education of the public on Medicare.

Yet my support of these programs led to an even greater awareness within myself on the value of partnerships. This came through my work with Gary Refsland, the first director of the Montana state program.  Just as I had reached out to the state programs to forge a partnership – realizing that we had a common goal of educating seniors – Gary had reached out to every other component within the state of Montana who had a similar goal. He knew both the importance of educating seniors on their various government benefits as well as the limited resources in staff and money allocated by every organization with that purpose. He knew that together they could accomplish much more than they could individually. He guided the individuals representing these organizations through meetings where they agreed upon common goals and how each would put their resources towards those goals. They let go of some of their autonomy but they gained so much more in their collective effectiveness.

I learned a lot from Gary about the value of looking to find others with a common goal and then creating a partnership with them in attaining that goal. Through the efforts of Gary and other SHIP programs, my agency (HCFA – CMS) also learned to appreciate the importance of partnerships as they created a component in their headquarters dedicated to that task.

You might be wondering at this point just what this story and the development of these partnerships has to do with evolution. Yes, my personal awareness of the value of partnerships as well as my organization’ s awareness “evolved” . But that’s not the main point.

In our last article (Our Evolutionary Tension – Autonomy Versus Communion), we explored the dynamic tension between our desire for independence and autonomy versus our desire to be a part of something greater. This tension and our handling of it has been critical in evolving us to our current state of being. How we handle this tension in the future will be important for the upcoming steps on our evolutionary path.

What I hope you see from my story is how the greater good was served by each of the players – my Medicare staff, the state counseling programs and other senior oriented programs – giving up a small part of their autonomy and coming together in partnership with others towards a common goal. Medicare outreach and education evolved to a higher degree of its potential when there was a shift away from autonomy towards community, partnership.

The obvious question becomes – where in our lives now can we make this shift? Where can we agree to release some of our autonomy (either as an individual or in any organization of which we are a member) by joining with others in partnership towards an even higher goal then we can accomplish alone?

We will explore that in our next article.

Mark Gilbert


Check out all of Mark Gilbert’s books—available at Amazon. Click here to visit his Author Page. This includes his recent one Our Spiritual Rights and Responsibilities. In this book, he offers what he suggests are the 5 basic rights we all possess by virtue of our being these spiritual beings on planet Earth — and our 2 responsibilities we all hold in relation to one another! Check it out!