David Mechanic: An appreciation at the Journal of Health Politics, Policy, and Law

Mechanic_DavidI am the new social media editor of the Journal of Health Politics, Policy, and Law (JHPPL). (I was previously point-counterpoint editor, allowing me to plug these two exchanges here and here.) I am blessed that the very first issue I am called upon to plug is a special one to me personally and to the field: The entire August 2016 issue is an appreciation of the grand medical sociologist David Mechanic, edited by Carol Boyer and Brad Gray.

I don’t believe in ranking people. I’ll just say that David is an obvious giant of the field. For almost sixty years, he has powerfully brought medical sociology to bear on some of health policy’s greatest challenges: behavioral health, social determinants, the organizational challenges of HMOs and rural health organizations, trust in the doctor-patient relationship, and more. His appreciation for organizational and historical factors is especially valuable in a field dominated, sometimes unduly so, by economic frameworks. David is also noteworthy as a gentleman and as a gracious mentor.

The lineup of major scholars writing in this weighty JHPPL special issue is terrific….

Allan Horwitz and Gerald Grub write a fascinating history of psychiatry’s struggle for specific diagnoses. Sherry Glied and Richard Frank then take on the evolving nature of the American mental health system. Mark Olfson considers the rise of primary care physicians in the provision of American mental health care. Sara Rosenbaum examines the role of Olmstead litigation in Medicaid.

James House then considers social determinants and population health disparities; while David Williams and Valerie Purdie-Vaughns consider interventions that might reduce race-ethnic disparities often linked to these determinants. Bruce Link and Mark L. Hatzenbuehler  then discuss stigma as an unrecognized determinant of Population Health.

In the area of health care organizations, Paul Cleary considers evolving concepts of patient-centered care and the assessment of patient care experiences. Vincent Mor and Joan M. Teno then consider hospice and palliative care in the context of Medicare’s hospice benefit. Mark Schlesinger and Brad Gray examine challenges posed by (incomplete or not fully-deserved) trust for health care and health policy.

The final set of essays consider state and national health reform. Robert Mechanic considers the Massachusetts experience. Joel Cantor and Alan Monheit consider New Jersey’s individual insurance market reforms—a history with special relevance given adverse selection concerns on the new  marketplaces. Frank Thompson, Joel Cantor, and Jennifer Farnham then consider Medicaid long-term care polices and the role of state officials in influencing federal policy. Jon Oberlander then considers the implementation accomplishments and inherent limitations of the Affordable Care Act. The title of Jim Morone’s final piece: “Partisanship, dysfunction, and racial fears: the new normal in health policy?” is sadly self-explanatory.

There is more to this issue. Frederic Hafferty and Jon Tilbert contribute a fun GRE-worded essay “David Mechanic: Professional Zombie Hunter.” David Mechanic himself, Margaret Marsh, and Allan Horwitz contribute a nice memorial to historian Gerald Grob.

If you spend an afternoon with this special issue, I guarantee that you will learn much more about health policy beyond the latest screaming match about Obamacare. OK that is a low standard. It’s a terrific read, and a gratifying tribute to a grand figure of the profession.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect, tnr.com, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

2 thoughts on “David Mechanic: An appreciation at the Journal of Health Politics, Policy, and Law”

  1. A truly magnificent scholar in the field, as well as a gifted writer. This is richly deserved.

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