November 22, 2017

Uwe Reinhardt, Famed Economist, Dies at 80

Photo Courtesy of Princeton University

By Donald Gilpin

Uwe Reinhardt, Princeton University economics professor for almost 50 years and one of the most influential health policy experts in the country, died Monday, November 13 in Princeton. He was 80.

As Congress, the states, and the White House carry on their disputes over health care, Reinhardt’s ideas and arguments continue to help shape the national health policy debate, as they have for decades.

Many of his ideas are inscribed as components of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), including the individual mandate, which requires people to purchase health insurance or face penalties; government subsidies for low-income families; and the goal of a transparent market with lower prices. “It’s the Prices, Stupid,” the title of a 2003 article he co-authored, was one of his frequent observations in decrying the expense of medical care in the United States.

Reinhardt was born in Germany in 1937. As a young boy he witnessed the horrors of World War II from his home near the Belgian border, and immigrated to Canada at the age of 18 to avoid being drafted into the German Army. After three years working at a shipping company and parking cars at night, he enrolled at the University of Saskatchewan, eventually graduating from there with a degree in commerce. He went on to earn his PhD in economics at Yale University. His dissertation was titled “An Economic Analysis of Physicians’ Practices.”

Reinhardt joined the Princeton University faculty in 1968. “Uwe Reinhardt was one of Princeton’s most beloved teachers,” said Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber. “He had a lasting impact on generations of students, and we will miss him tremendously.”

Woodrow Wilson School Dean Cecilia Rouse added, “Uwe was a phenomenal colleague, mentor, and friend. He embodied what is the best of Princeton and the Woodrow Wilson School and contributed significantly to health policy debates around the world.”

As a prolific writer С in The New York Times where he wrote a regular Economix blog and in an array of scientific and policy journals and other publications С Reinhardt was known for his ability to clarify complicated subjects to explain health care, its finances and ethics, to a broad general audience.

He served as advisor to governments, commissions, and advisory boards in this country and overseas. He was frequently called upon to brief members of Congress on health care issues, serving from 1986 to 1995 on the Physician Payment Review Commission, now part of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission.

Reinhardt also advised the National Council on Health Care Technology as well as the Special Advisory Board of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the National Advisory Board of the Agency for Health Care Quality and Research, Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). He served on the Medicare Technical Advisory Panel of the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services at DHHS and on various advisory panels of the VA. He was a member of the National Academy of Medicine.

Reinhardt received numerous awards in recognition of his work over the years, both domestically and internationally, including, just last month, the 2017 bipartisan Health Policy Leadership Award from the Alliance for Health Policy, a nonpartisan organization.

Reinhardt was a trustee of the National Bureau of Economic Research and served on the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, and the National Institute of Health Care Management. The Kaiser Family Foundation described him as “a moral compass for American health care.”

He was a senior associate of the Judge Institute of Management Studies of Cambridge University. He served on the World Bank External Advisory Panel for Health, Population, and Nutrition; on the board of trustees of Duke University; and the advisory board of the Duke University Health System. He was formerly president of the Association for Health Services Research (now AcademyHealth) and the International Health Economics Association.

The James Madison Professor of Political Economy at Princeton, Reinhardt taught health economics, comparative health systems, microeconomics, and financial management. He was also the co-director of the Griswold Center for Economic Policy Studies at Princeton.

“Professor Reinhardt’s course on economics shaped the way I understand the world,” wrote Kathryn Lankester, 2008 Princeton graduate, health care professional, and one of many who contributed to an In Memoriam blog for Reinhardt on the University website. “In McCosh each morning he seized economic theories like knitting needles, and with them stitched recognizable patterns from the tangled yarn of life. Each class led to a new insight on the workings of the world, as well as a good laugh on whatever topic took the brunt of his sardonic wit.”

She continued, “As a professional seeking to improve our healthcare system, I have relied upon his work from afar. All Americans are in his debt for his contribution to enhancing our understanding of healthcare; its repair is critical to our national enterprise.”

He is survived by his wife Tsung-Mei Cheng, a health policy research analyst at Princeton; their two sons, Dirk and Mark Reinhardt; their daughter Kara Reinhardt Block; and two grandchildren.

A memorial service is being planned.