Health economist Uwe Reinhardt dies at 80

Uwe Reinhardt

Uwe Reinhardt, the famed health economist and beloved mentor to students at Princeton University for almost five decades, died on Nov. 13. He was 80.

Born in Osnabrück, Germany in 1937, Reinhardt later emigrated to Canada, where he received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Saskatchewan. He then earned his doctorate in economics from Yale University. He began teaching at Princeton in 1968.

Considered on of the leading authorities on health care economics in the United States, Reinhardt received numerous awards for his work. The Kaiser Family Foundation called him a moral compass for American health care.

Reinhardt served as an adviser to several federal commissions, and from 1986 to 1995 he was a commissioner on the Physician Payment Review Committee, a committee established by Congress to advise it on issues related to the payment of physicians. Since 2010, he served on the Medicare Technical Advisory Panel of the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services, which advises the federal government on making long-range forecasts of health spending for Medicare. In 2006, Reinhardt was appointed by Gov. Jon Corzine to chair the health reform commission for New Jersey.

Reinhardt was a trustee of the National Bureau of Economic Research and also served on the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, and the National Institute of Health Care Management. He was a senior associate at the Judge Institute for Management of Cambridge University, a trustee at Duke University, and a trustee at the Duke University Health System. He was also a member of numerous editorial boards, including the Journal of Health Economics, the New England Journal of Medicine, and the Journal of the American Medical Association.

His research explored the equity, cost and cost-effectiveness of health care, payment reforms, veteran’s health care, and the political economy of U.S. health care. He argued that high prices, and not excessive quantities of care, are the main driver of rising health care costs in the United States. He criticized the lack of transparency in hospital pricing, examined the advantages of not-for-profit hospitals over for-profit hospitals, and compared the U.S. health care industry to systems around the world, showing that intricate and disjointed payment systems are a major factor driving costs in the United States.

He tied the lack of transparency among health care costs, which he described as the “shroud of secrecy” draped across America’s “health care fortress,” as a primary reason for market failures in health care. His work was instrumental in developing some of the reforms embodied in the Affordable Care Act such as having Medicare pay for performance rather than entirely on a fee-for-service basis.

Known for his ability to explain complex health care issues to a broad audience, he was a popular teacher at Princeton. He co-directed the Center for Economic Policy Studies, and taught Economics 100 for many years. He also taught courses in finance and health policy.

“Uwe Reinhardt was one of Princeton’s most beloved teachers. He had a lasting impact on generations of students, and we will miss him tremendously,” said Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber in a news release about Reinhardt’s death.

In nearly five decades of teaching, Reinhardt influenced hundreds of students. He was named an honorary classmate of the undergraduate classes of 1974, 1983, 1995 and 2000.

“Uwe was a consistently popular and entertaining teacher, beloved by generations of students in economics and the Woodrow Wilson School,” said Janet Currie, director of Princeton’s Department of Economics. “He was a kind, warm and humorous colleague who always seemed to have time to stop and chat despite his busy schedule. He will be very sorely missed by his colleagues and former students.”


Reinhardt built relationships with students that lasted decades. He was a friend and mentor to physician and former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist for more than four decades.

“Uwe imaginatively captured the minds of generations of students and inspired them to do good,” Frist said. “His content was economics and policy. His engagement was personality and charisma and humility. His product was a better world for us all.”

Reinhardt is survived by his wife, May Tsung-Mei Cheng, sons Dirk and Mark Reinhardt, daughter Kara Reinhardt Block, and two grandchildren.

A memorial service is being planned at a date to still be determined.