November 15, 2017

Uwe Reinhardt, 1937-2017

Daily Briefing

    By Josh Zeitlin, Senior Editor

    Uwe Reinhardt, a Princeton University health economist who was revered for his contributions to the field, passed away on Tuesday from an illness at age 80.

    "Uwe Reinhardt captured the minds of generations of students, inspiring them to do good," surgeon and former senator Bill Frist wrote.

    "We will miss his wit, moral clarity, brilliance, and generosity. It is hard to overstate his thought leadership in the field of health policy and health economics," said Daniel Polsky‏, executive director of the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics.

    "His contributions to the literature were legendary," said Larry Kaiser, president and CEO of Temple University Health System.

    "No one made health policy more engaging and understandable. A crushing loss," said Kaiser Health News Chief Washington Correspondent Julie Rovner.

    "Uwe always sought the truth. He always reminded us that behind all the data and graphs he loved so much were people. In doing that, he set the standard for all of us in health care," wrote Kaiser Family Foundation President and CEO Drew Altman.

    Reinhardt served as a member of the National Academy of Medicine (formerly the Institute of Medicine) from 1978 until his passing. He also served as a commissioner on the Physician Payment Review Committee and was a past president of the Association of Health Services Research. He authored several groundbreaking pieces on hospital pricing, health care spending, health systems, and more for JAMA, NEJM, and other publications. He also gained a popular audience with his regular pieces on the economics of health care for the New York Times.

    Reinhardt inspired many with his insights. I first decided I wanted to work in health care after reading a widely cited Health Affairs article he co-authored, titled, "It's the prices, stupid: Why the United States is so different from other countries." I spoke with Reinhardt for three stories since joining Advisory Board, and he was always generous with his time and thoughtfulness.

    Reading people's reflections on Reinhardt across the past day, I'm struck again by the mark his force of insight and spirit of generosity left on so many. Austin Frakt, a health economist and contributor to the New York Times' "The Upshot," wrote that Reinhardt in his speeches would often "reveal some peculiarity of the health system I had never noticed in the same way. And then he proceeded to show how it was illogical, in violation of basic concepts of economics, immoral, or hypocritical." Reinhardt was a "knife twister of the first class," Frakt wrote. "Should you hold dearly an idea he targeted for systematic dismantling, you would squirm." He was also a mentor and a mensch, Frakt said, who would write out of the blue to inquire about his family.

    Galen Benshoof‏, a friend and former student of Reinhardt, wrote Tuesday about what made Reinhardt unique. "Uwe did a ton of groundbreaking research and writing over the years," Benshoof said. "But to me, what sticks out most in his distinguished career are his values, his emphasis on social solidarity, even when it was out of style among his peers. He thought we have a responsibility to each other."

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