The American Medical Association said Monday it tapped Andra Heller, International Business Machines Corp.’s top lawyer for Watson Health, as its senior vice president and general counsel.
She replaces former legal chief Brian Vandenberg, who retired March 1 after spending five years with the largest professional association and lobbying group for U.S. doctors and medical students.
“The challenges facing our physicians and health care system throughout the Covid-19 pandemic are immense,”Heller said. “I am confident that the AMA will continue to play a leading role.”
Heller joins a Chicago-based organization that has taken strong positions on public policy during the pandemic, as it last week applauded the continuation of mask wearing on public transportation.
Bloomberg Law reported last year on the AMA’s policy-making body approving a resolution declaring that only licensed physicians should be able to grant exemptions for coronavirus vaccines.
The AMA also supported the Biden administration’s controversial Covid-19 shot-or-test mandate for private sector businesses. That mandate was withdrawn in late January by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration following a U.S. Supreme Court decision earlier that month effectively killing the measure.
At the AMA, Heller said she’ll be tasked with “removing obstacles that interfere with patient care, driving the future of medicine, and improving the health of the nation.”
Heller previously served as general counsel for the health care and science unit of Thomson Reuters Corp. and Truven Health Analytics Inc., a health care data business sold for $2.6 billion in 2016 to IBM. She joined IBM through that transaction as the company combined Truven with Watson Health.
IBM agreed in January to unload Watson Health’s data operation for more than $1 billion to private equity firm Francisco Partners LP after putting the unit up for sale last year. Watson is an artificial intelligence tool developed by IBM to serve various businesses, including law firms and corporate law departments.
Vandenberg, Heller’s predecessor as general counsel for the AMA, received more than $917,000 in total compensation from the nonprofit in 2019, according to its most recent federal tax filing.
Vandenberg, a former general counsel at Livongo Health Inc., was hired by the AMA in 2017 to succeed former Sidley Austin partner Jon Ekdahl, who retired after nearly 17 years as legal chief for the organization.
Vandenberg was named chief administrative officer and general counsel earlier this month for Homeward Health Inc., a San Francisco-based health care startup formed by former Livongo executives that raised $20 million coming out of stealth mode.
The AMA hired former Epstein Becker & Green health care associate Ebunola Aniyikaiye in Washington last year as an assistant general counsel for digital technology and innovation. Diana Huang, a former health care counsel at Crowell & Moring, joined the AMA in 2020 as an assistant general counsel.