For noted health economist and health policy researcher Melinda Buntin, the complex world of economic policy is deeply intertwined with the everyday lives of ordinary people.
“Of all the reasons I love politics, it all comes back to the fact that it matters to people’s everyday lives,” says Buntin. “It involves all kinds of different actors with different incentives and motivations coming together in a way that affects people’s well-being. I realized early in my career that economists have had a huge influence in discussions of health care reform because the effects on the federal budget are so large. . I wanted to be a health economist who always kept in mind both spending and the value created by spending on health care. It’s not just dollars: it’s people, and it’s lives.”
Buntin has joined Johns Hopkins University as the Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Health Policy and Economics. She is employed in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Carey School of Business. In addition, Buntin will be a member of the BDP research cluster from knowledge to action and health business, which will conduct transformational research on the health care system.
“Of all the reasons I love politics, it all comes back to the fact that it matters to people’s everyday lives… I wanted to be a health economist who always kept in mind both spending and the value created by spending on health care.” It’s not just dollars: it’s people, and it’s lives.”
Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Health Policy and Economics
“Melinda Buntin brings an impressive resume that includes government, private sector and academic experience to Johns Hopkins University,” says Johns Hopkins Provost Ray Jayavarhana. “Her interdisciplinary approach to health economics and policy will be vital to the work of the GDP Knowledge to Action and Health Business cluster.”
Buntin’s research analyzes health care delivery and costs with a focus on improving the value created by the US health care system. Her work has explored the effects of financing and payment policies on the organization and delivery of health services and on the federal budget, and her research links health care and public health policy with the goal of providing insights and guidance to the health sector, businesses, and policymakers and ultimately improving health care delivery. and outcomes.
To help with this, Buntin will lead the newly established Center for Health Systems and Policy Modeling. The center will address new issues in health policy and build models related to the supply and delivery of health care. Work within the center will generate new ideas about financing and organizing health care that will achieve better value and better outcomes, and will be a place where policymakers can bring their ideas to the test.
Buntin will be based at Johns Hopkins University’s new Bloomberg Center in Washington.
“I’ve found that when you’re dealing with policymakers, you have to give them information at the level they need, and in a way that involves an ongoing relationship of trust,” says Buntin. “The Hopkins Bloomberg Center—with its location at 555 Pennsylvania Avenue—is a manifestation of Johns Hopkins’ commitment to policy involvement at the federal level.”
Defining values in health care
For Buntin, it is crucial to note that in health care value is not primarily defined by financial costs but by outcomes.
“Value is what you get for the dollar you spend,” says Buntin. “We want to achieve the most health for society that we can for what we spend.” When health is unevenly distributed in society, we are not getting the best value we can for our health spending. A healthcare system where certain professionals are systematically undervalued or exploited is also not a system that produces the greatest value for society. We want to create a health system that generates health and health outcomes in a way that is equally distributed and that takes into account all those involved in the health care system, including patients and health professionals”.
“All in all, my research is kind of related to thinking about two things,” says Buntin. “The first is how do we improve the value we get from the money spent on health care in this country, which means how do we get better quality and better health outcomes from the investments we make. The second is looking at the way politics shapes the way care is organized and delivered and how that, in turn, can affect the people who need care the most. Policies often have unintended consequences for people who do not have access to care, people who are chronically ill, and historically marginalized groups.”
At Johns Hopkins, Buntin is looking forward to solving a problem that has been on her mind for more than a decade: how to project the effects of “supply-side” policies on the health care industry.
During her time as an economist at the Congressional Budget Office, Buntin evaluated health policies being considered by Congress, often using models to estimate the effects of policies on individual insurance choices or health care utilization. Most of these models have focused on the “demand side” of health care. Now, Buntin is interested in the mechanisms used to pay healthcare organizations, including insurers, doctors, hospitals and other healthcare providers – the “supply side” of the healthcare system.
“There is no comprehensive model of what economists call ‘supply side’ analysis, or how the health care system works and the effects of incentives on it,” Buntin explains. “My goal is to gradually fill that gap by looking at different parts of the health care system and developing models of how they work and how policies can affect them.” They can then be used to help various healthcare actors. system of care and the health care industry, including policymakers at the federal and state levels.”
“I’m inspired knowing how hard people work in our health care system to overcome the barriers and incentives that exist,” says Buntin. “I think about how, during the COVID-19 pandemic, many of my clinical colleagues and people across the country have had to invent new ways of doing things to meet the needs. But it’s not limited to the pandemic, it happens all the time. I want my work to make it easier for healthcare professionals to provide the best care to their patients in the least uncomfortable way.”
Work in different disciplines
At Hopkins, Buntin is part of the Knowledge to Action and Business in Health (KABOH) cluster, which is part of the Bloomberg Distinguished Professors (BDP) cluster initiative. These faculty-developed interdisciplinary clusters recruit new BDPs and junior faculty members at Johns Hopkins to conduct transformative research in ten key areas. The KABOH cluster addresses the urgent societal need to achieve better health outcomes in the face of increasing health spending, with the help of the Hopkins Health Initiative.
“The culture created by the Bloomberg Distinguished Professor Program and the framework of the KABOH cluster creates a natural way for me to exchange ideas with colleagues who have different disciplinary backgrounds than myself,” says Buntin. “It’s also exciting to get the chance to meet and exchange ideas with an even wider range of people, and I think that has great potential to influence my work and the way I think about what I do.”
Buntin comes to JHU from Vanderbilt University, where she was a University Distinguished Professor. She was also the founder of the Health Policy Department. During her time at Vanderbilt, she grew the department to 22 faculty members, created a health policy track in the master’s of public health program, and established a Ph.D. program in health policy.
Buntin received her bachelor’s degree in public and international affairs from Princeton University and her doctorate in health policy with a concentration in economics from Harvard University. Prior to joining the faculty at Vanderbilt University, Buntin held several leadership roles in health policy: she was deputy director of the RAND Health Program on Economics, Financing, and Organization; Director of Public Sector Initiatives for RAND Health; and co-director of the Bing Center for Health Economics. She also served as Chief Economist and Founding Director of the Office of Economics, Estimating, and Modeling within the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT and was Director in the Health, Retirement, and Long-Term Analysis Division of the Congressional Budget Office. “With her deep expertise and innovative thinking, Dr. Buntin will be a tremendous asset to the Bloomberg School,” says Ellen J. McKenzie, dean of the Bloomberg School of Public Health. “I am excited about the ways in which her powerful work fits with our longstanding strengths in health policy and management.” In his BDP role, Dr. Buntin will help us advance our goal of ensuring that the money we invest in health care yields the greatest possible return in better health and longer life.”
“Melinda’s impressive record as a researcher is a tremendous contribution to the rich expertise of the Carey Business School faculty,” said Carey Business School Dean Alec Triantis. “Her deep understanding of health economics makes her uniquely qualified to work across disciplines with distinguished researchers across many Hopkins schools, while enhancing the value of our Hopkins Health Business initiative to researchers around the world.” We are very happy to be a part of Carey’s present and future.”
“There’s no place like Hopkins in health and healthcare,” says Buntin. “It was amazing to see the people gathered here and the range of research that their work covers.” This is a chance to be in a fantastic environment with great colleagues and amazing students, and to be part of an institution that provides a great boost to my research. I feel a wonderful sense of alignment with both the commitment to influence federal policy and the Hopkins Health Initiative.”
As a Bloomberg Distinguished Professor, Buntin joins an interdisciplinary group of scholars working to solve the world’s big problems and teach the next generation. The program is supported by a gift from Michael R. Bloomberg, Johns Hopkins alumnus, founder of Bloomberg LP and Bloomberg Philanthropy, World Health Organization Global Ambassador for Noncommunicable Diseases and Injuries, United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Climate Ambition and Solutions, and 108th Mayor of New York City.
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