Uwe Reinhardt

BMJ 2017; 359 doi: (Published 04 December 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;359:j5610
  1. Ned Stafford
  1. Hamburg
  1. ns{at}

German born healthcare economist who was the “conscience” of the US medical system

Credit: Princeton University Office of Communications/Brian Wilson

As an adult, Uwe Reinhardt, who was born and raised in Germany, became a proud citizen of the US and the preeminent healthcare economist of his generation. As a long time professor at Princeton University, he advised government agencies, advisory boards, the White House, and the US Congress. A dynamic speaker and a gifted writer, he had the ability to explain complex healthcare policy and economic issues in simple English.

Reinhardt never succeeded, however, in figuring out why the richest, most powerful nation on earth failed to follow the example of countries such as the UK, Canada, and his native Germany by providing medical insurance for all its citizens. He opened many of his speeches with the same line: “I’m just an immigrant, so maybe I am missing something about the curious American healthcare system.”

Often described as the “conscience” of US healthcare, Reinhardt once remarked: “The issue of universal coverage is not a matter of economics. Little more than 1 per cent of GDP assigned to health could cover it all. It is a matter of soul.” He felt that high prices, and not excessive quantities of care, were the prime culprit behind exploding healthcare costs in the US while millions remained uninsured.

In The BMJ in 2007 Reinhardt displayed his bafflement by posing a rhetorical question: “What have we Americans become as a people to allow so much callousness and outright cruelty in a health system that is abundantly endowed with resources—in many instances excessively well endowed—and, as most Americans must know, also is home to much human kindness and excellence?”1


Don McCanne, a retired family physician and former president of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), which advocates universal medical coverage in …

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