Talking Death and Politics: Startups Focus on Palliative Care as Healthcare Gets Human(e)

February 3, 2017
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As a healthcare investor, I love that the money I invest helps build companies that have real benefit to society. And I’m a natural optimist, tending to see a world full of opportunities to build, improve and make our lives better.

Recently, Trevor Price and I interviewed the co-founders of Aspire Health - former Senator Bill Frist and his colleague Brad Smith for our new podcast, “A Healthy Dose,” where we talk about healthcare, policy and innovation. Bill is an amazing guy: The son of a doctor, he began his career as a heart and lung transplant surgeon and then served two terms as a United States Senator, serving as Majority Leader from 2003 until he retired in 2007. He then became an investor and business man, co-founding Aspire with Brad Smith. Brad is no slouch either! He most recently served as chief-of-staff at the Tennessee Department of Economic Development, overseeing the day-to-day operations of the $220 million, 140-person organization. Brad, who also spent time at McKinsey & Company, graduated summa cum laude from Harvard University and received an M. Phil from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar.

Trevor, Steve, Brad and Bill

Aspire Health focuses on palliative care providing an extra layer of support for families and patients facing serious illness — be it heart failure, advanced cancer or end-stage renal disease. Like the two of them, I believe that there is an opportunity to improve the care experience for end-of-life patients, and that’s why I led BVP’s investment in the sector, funding Health Essentials and sitting on their board.

I believe companies like Aspire and Health Essentials are needed because the traditional medical establishment is not trained or set-up to deal with the complexities of end-of-life care. Doctors by definition are trained to be “healers” and to cure patients of their ailments; not call the end game. It is a very emotionally challenging thing to do, and it takes skilled practitioners to be able to have the conversation with patients and their families that there are unfortunately no cures left. And once a patient’s disease is determined to be terminal, the set of medical, emotional and spiritual services they need are very different than that of your typical patient.

Managing end-of-life care more effectively is also important when it comes to controlling healthcare costs in our country. One out of every four Medicare dollars, more than $125 billion, is spent on services for the 5% of beneficiaries in their last year of life. This is an astonishing number — 5% of people who die each year account for 25% of healthcare cost in America! And this number isn’t getting any smaller any time soon with the massive onslaught of the aging Baby Boomer generation. By providing better coordinated and managed care at the end-of-life, Aspire and Health Essentials are providing patients with high quality care and better customer service at a lower cost. They are achieving what few companies do, which is the Triple Crown of Healthcare.

Even in these dark times in our nation’s capital, I come away from this podcast feeling energized that there are good and talented folks like Brad Smith and Bill Frist working in healthcare and in government. Our conversation was inspiring and wide-ranging. In addition to getting more background on Aspire, we discussed President Trump and present day politics through Bill’s unique lens as a the former Senate Majority Leader, the importance of personal relationships and empathy in care, and Brad’s experience as a young founder and first time CEO. It’s worth a listen. You can find our podcast — “A Healthy Dose” — on iTunes and SoundCloud. Hope you enjoy!

P.S. an important editor’s note: this podcast was taped before Trump’s immigration executive order was drafted and released. Otherwise, rest assured that Trevor and I would have asked the former Senate Majority about his views. And I am pretty sure, after getting to spend some time with Bill, his views would have been much more compassionate and sound than those espoused by the current administration. You can read more here about my and my firm’s view on this harmful executive order.


Steve Kraus is recognized as one of the top healthcare investors in the country, with a unique combination of VC, healthcare and policy experience. He serves on the Massachusetts Digital Health Council, as an advisor to Boston Children’s Hospital, BCBS MA, and Rock Health, and co-hosts “A Healthy Dose,” a podcast focused on healthcare innovation, policy and trends.

That’s me — eyebrows and all! Seriously, if you have any ideas for our podcast or if you are an entrepreneur that would like to share your company with me, please email me at I would love to speak with you!