Interview with Jonathan Oberlander, New Editor of the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law

We sat down with Jonathan Oberlander, the new editor of the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law (JHPPL), to discuss his vision for the journal, what sets JHPPL apart, and what he’s looking for in submissions. Oberlander is Professor and Chair of Social Medicine, Professor of Health Policy and Management, and Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

What is your professional background, and what brought you to JHPPL?

I’m a political scientist by training, and I actually started out studying Middle Eastern politics before moving into health care. I must be drawn to irresolvable conflicts. When I applied to graduate school, I applied half to universities in Middle Eastern politics and half in health care politics. I wound up going to graduate school in American politics, with a focus on health care, and as a PhD student, I worked with Ted Marmor, who was one of the founders of the field of health politics in the United States and a former editor of JHPPL.

I grew up on JHPPL, and I’ve known other editors—Ted Marmor, Colleen Grogan, Eric Patashnik, Mark Peterson, Mark Schlesinger, Michael Sparer, Larry Brown, Jim Morone—they’re all colleagues and friends of mine. It was the first journal I ever published in as a graduate student, and it has remained the core journal in my professional life. I’ve been involved in one way or another with the journal for a long time.

What is your vision for JHPPL? What do you hope to accomplish as editor, and how do you see the journal evolving under your leadership?

I think Eric has been an excellent editor, and I want to build on what he’s done. This is an exciting time in health care policy and reform, a time of tremendous volatility and change, and JHPPL has much to say about that change and about what’s going on in health care reform.

I want the journal to be an influential voice in commenting on the direction of health care policy both in the United States and abroad. We’re coming up on the tenth anniversary of the Affordable Care Act; the journal has had a lot to say about the ACA, and we will have a lot to say marking the 10th anniversary of its enactment.

I want the journal to publish not just on health care reform but to deepen our engagement in the politics of public health, and to publish on a wide variety of issues, from the politics of reproductive health to the opioid epidemic to tobacco regulation and much more. I want us to be capacious in thinking about the kind of work we’re going to publish, and to think about health care politics as a very broad area that includes health care reform, insurance, and financing but is actually much broader than that.

Are you planning any special issues?

Nothing is final, but I have a few things in mind. Certainly the Affordable Care Act at 10 is one. I’d like to do a special issue on prescription drug costs and pricing, and one on the future of Roe v. Wade and reproductive health policy in this country. Immigration and health is certainly an issue that JHPPL should pay attention to, and the future of tobacco regulation is another one. These are all ideas swimming around, and we’ll see which ones get to the surface.

What qualities set JHPPL apart from other journals in the field?

I think the articles that JHPPL publishes have a substantive depth to them that’s singular. Health policy is a changing field; there’s a lot in health care policy that is fleeting, of the moment. I think JHPPL has always been committed to publishing articles that have intellectual rigor, scholarly depth, and a half-life beyond the next week’s headlines.

We’re also highly interdisciplinary. The journal has published political scientists, economists, health services researchers, lawyers, public health researchers, sociologists, and more, and I think that interdisciplinary nature is core to JHPPL’s identity. We want to publish articles that are of interest and accessible to our myriad disciplinary audiences.

What are you looking for in submissions?

We’re looking for pieces that speak to the core issues and themes that JHPPL is known for. We’re going to be looking broadly—we want submissions from authors who haven’t written for JHPPL before. We want more submissions from fields that JHPPL has published in but perhaps not yet in great quantity. Ultimately, what we’re really looking for is quality, and articles that have depth, accessibility, and that are compelling and engaging no matter what the discipline is.

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