Distinguished Alumni Award
Richard Foster '71
Is there any hotter question today than, “What is the financial status of Medicare and Medicaid?” The person perhaps most capable of answering the question is Richard Foster ’71, chief actuary of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Foster, who has held the position since 1995, answers the burning question with crisp professionalism: “The bottom line is that the outlook is not good and it needs legislative attention.”
A year ago, Foster found himself leading a battle to ensure that legislators of both political parties have access to the information provided by the Office of the Actuary. Historically an independent and bipartisan organization, his office was pressured to release only information that supported upcoming Medicare legislation. His direct supervisor threatened Foster that speaking to the “wrong” party with the “wrong” information was grounds for firing. Foster’s public protests and Congressional testimony were central to investigations by the Office of the Inspector General and General Accountability Office, which concluded that the agency head (who has since resigned) had acted inappropriately and against the public interest.
Foster is graciously diplomatic as he looks back on the past year. “There will always be political pressure, and sometimes it’s worse than others,” he says. “But the whole experience reminded a lot of people that my office has always been independent and non-partisan — and why that’s important.”
Foster, who previously served as deputy chief actuary for the Social Security Administration, was awarded the Meritorious Executive Award from President Clinton in 1998, the second-highest performance award given to career civil servants, and the Distinguished Executive Award (the highest such award) from President Bush in 2001. Foster, who manages an office of 80 actuaries, economists, and statisticians, is quick to credit his colleagues. “They’re smart, hard working and a pleasure to work with,” he says. “What we do really is a public service, and it’s exciting and challenging to be able to work on major issues that affect millions of people.”
After receiving his degree with honors in mathematics from Wooster in 1971, Foster earned an M.S. from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and in 1980 became a Fellow of the Society of Actuaries. He is married to Nancy Allen Foster ’70 and in his leisure time plays lead guitar in a rock band. Foster, who has established The College of Wooster’s Foster Prize in Mathematics in partnership with his father, remembers well the personal attention he received as a student, particularly from Professors Melcher Fobes and Donald Beane (mathematics), William Baird and Gene Pollock (economics), and Jim Bean (French), who performed the Fosters’ marriage ceremony.
“I have always loved The College of Wooster. I’ve been back to visit the college every year since graduation, and I haven’t missed a single class reunion,” says Foster. “The College has meant more to me than I can ever express, and I’m deeply honored to have been selected for the Alumni Achievement Award.”