We recently talked with incoming editor of the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law (JHPPL), Eric M. Patashnik, about his background; how the journal brings together practitioners, policy makers, and researchers; and his goals for the journal during his tenure as editor. To learn more about JHPPL, visit dukeupress.edu/jhppl.
Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you came to be the editor of JHPPL.
I’m a professor of public policy and political science at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University. My research explores the politics of American national policymaking. I’ve done a lot of research on Medicare and Medicaid, and my current work is on the politics of evidence-based medicine and the struggle to improve the quality and cost-effectiveness of health care in the United States.
Health care is a critical arena for the study of politics and governance. How a society funds, allocates, and delivers healthcare has massive effects not only on the federal budget but also on the well being of every citizen and every community. Health politics implicates fundamental values and raises issues regarding personal autonomy and identity. This is a rapidly evolving domain in which highly trained professionals, including physicians and scientists, as well as government regulators and private actors, such as drug and medical device firms, vie for influence. In short, the study of healthcare provides an opportunity to investigate the role of ideas, interests, and institutions in governance. JHPPL provides a forum for discussing all these topics in a way that addresses the concerns of both the research community and practitioners.
I’ve been involved in a number of organizations working on health care. As a faculty member at Yale in the 1990s, I was affiliated with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Scholars in Health Policy Research program, and in more recent years I’ve served on the program’s National Advisory Committee. My research has also been funded though an RWJ Investigators Award grant. Through these activities, I’ve had the chance to interact with leading political scientists, sociologists, economists who study health policy—the very kinds of scholars who publish in JHPPL. JHPPL has long been at the core of my professional identity and intellectual community and has been a wonderful outlet for my own research.
It seems like JHPPL has its finger on the pulse of health policy. How do you see the relationship between the journal and current events playing out while you’re the editor?
I see the journal making two distinctive contributions to the health policy debate. First, the journal publishes original research that investigates and illuminates pressing policy topics, from the implementation of the Affordable Care Act to issues such as health disparities, obesity, and health care cost control.
At the same time, JHPPL not only investigates the substantive content of issues, it also puts those issues in a broader perspective. JHPPL, more than any other journal, examines the historical, ideational, and cultural context of struggles over the financing, organization, and delivery of health care. JHPPL authors frequently publish studies that make comparisons across time and space, asking how the US health care system is similar to or different from the systems found in other advanced nations and how past government decisions about health care channel and constrain the choices available to health policymakers today. It’s the kind of journal where you see work that unpacks common assumptions about health policy, that challenges conventional wisdom, and so it’s not simply a journal for policy makers, it’s also a journal for public intellectuals, for advocates, and for the full range of stakeholders that are involved in health policy making.
The journal really has an academic analysis of the ACA rollout that’s happening as implementation happens. How is the journal approaching the ACA? How are you finding pieces?
One of the things I’m excited about is starting new sections. I plan to start a new section on the politics and policy of health reform. This will be a cross-cutting section that will look at how health reform is playing out both nationally and in the states. It will examine the political dimensions of health reform as well as the practical administrative challenges. I think one of the things that’s important to keep in mind about health reform is that it’s a technically complex area, but it’s also an area that raises the most fundamental political questions about the kind of society we are. I really want to bring the policy and the politics together. That section will be co-edited by Heather Howard, a leading practitioner/scholar, and Frank Thompson, a distinguished senior researcher in the field.
Another special section, edited by Joe White, will be called “Beneath the Surface.” This section will feature essays that analyze and challenge empirical claims, theoretical assumptions, and taken-for-granted concepts in health policy debates.
Are there any special issues that you have in the works?
We have the possibility (in the early planning stages) of a special issue on the linkages between health policy research and health policy. One of the key questions is “Does research actually inform the policy debate? Does it help shape the agenda and policy implementation? If there are gaps between what research is telling us and what health policymakers are doing, what accounts for those gaps? How can we bring practitioners and the research community closer together?
Also in the early stages of planning is an issue about patient’s voices and patient advocacy groups and the role they play in the United States, the way in which the distinctive preferences of patients are or are not reflected in the decisions of physicians, of payers, and other stakeholders. The issue will seek to understand from a critical perspective whether patients are having their true interests reflected in health outcomes—and if not, what reforms could improve patient outcomes.