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Member Spotlight: Peter Jacobson

Member Spotlight
ASLME Member:
Peter Jacobson

This month we've interviewed Peter D. Jacobson, J.D., M.P.H., a Professor of Health Law and Policy in the Department of Health Management and Policy at the University of Michigan School of Public Health and the Director of the Center for Law, Ethics, and Health. He is also the recipient of the prestigious Jay Healey Teaching Award, given each year at the annual Health Law Professors Conference. Here he reflects on his decades-long career in the health law and public health and talks about some of his defining professional achievements.

1. Congratulations on winning the 2017 Jay Healey Teaching Award! What does winning this award mean to you?
Thanks very much. It’s a distinct honor to receive the Healey Teaching Award because it reflects my belief in the importance of teaching and scholarship. I’m very appreciative to be in a field that values and celebrates the commitment to those qualities. Recognition from my peers that my work over the past three decades is worthy of the award is incredibly gratifying—particularly at this time, since I’m retiring soon. What an amazing way to go out. I’m also proud to be associated with the eminent past recipients and those deserving scholars who will receive the award in future years.

And what advice do you have for other health law professors?
First, we are incredibly fortunate to have academic positions. Few others have the freedom to pursue whatever scholarly and professional interests we want. Don’t take it for granted.

Second, even as we pursue different scholarly interests, we share the classroom experience and its importance in the lives of our students. I’ve learned that I never know who I might influence in my classes. Probably the most rewarding aspect for me is the random note from an alum who asks for advice or says that the class made a lasting impression.

Third, we’re all much too busy. But take time to enjoy the numerous intangible rewards our profession offers.

2. You have attended nearly every Health Law Professors Conference since its inception. What makes this a must go-to conference for you?
From the beginning of my academic career, the Health Law Professors Conference has been my intellectual and professional home. It’s the only conference I routinely attend. At first, it gave me the opportunity to meet the leading health law scholars and learn from them. As time went on, I started collaborating with others in writing articles and working on issues of common interest. Now, I have the pleasure of being a mentor for junior scholars.

What do you enjoy most from attending it?
That’s easy—I especially look forward to the interaction with friends I’ve made over the years. Aside from catching up, it’s an opportunity to explore new ways of collaborating. And I enjoy interacting with the excellent group of junior faculty who attend the meeting.

3. You are a pioneer in health law and public health. How have these fields evolved over the years?
I’m currently working on a book that will attempt, in part, to answer this question. In brief, law has become integral to every aspect of the health care enterprise and public health system. Over time, health law doctrine has responded to changes in the health care market. An example is how law adapted to managed care. For public health, legal preparedness has become an important attribute for effective public health practice. An intriguing question is how legal doctrine will develop if health systems begin to integrate population health and clinical care (i.e., how to balance responsibilities toward individual patients and populations).

What changes in health policy or health reform would you like to see implemented?
Although I’m a proponent of a single payer health system, I’m not optimistic that it will happen any time soon. More realistically, a feasible interim reform, should Democrats regain a governing majority following the next two election cycles, is to pursue the public option for purchasing health insurance.

Another reform would be developing payment systems to reward health system interventions addressing the social determinants of health to improve the health of our communities. On a much narrower scale, how we regulate health care needs a thorough overhaul.

4. Can you tell us more about your current project with Michigan’s local health departments?
The project is designed to understand the role of Michigan’s local health departments (LHDs) in advancing racial and social equity. My colleagues and I are exploring the extent to which LHDs are addressing racial and social equity as a strategy to improve health outcomes within their jurisdictions and across the state. It follows a previously completed project that examined how Michigan’s LHDs are adapting to the changing health care environment. Taken together, the projects offer empirical support for the adjustments LHDs need to make in responding to a challenging environment.

Over the course of your career, which projects, papers, presentations, or other work are you most proud of?
I’ve been very fortunate in the types of projects I’ve been able to conduct. Most importantly, I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with exceptionally talented people.

Two projects stand out from my time at the RAND Corporation: gays in the military; and the politics and litigation of breast cancer treatment. At Michigan, one highlight has been a series of articles and a book on the role of the courts in shaping health policy. I’m also very proud of my empirical work (with collaborators) on tobacco control, public health systems, and safety net providers.

My favorite article title is from 2003—Who Killed Managed Care? A Policy Whodunit. But the article I like the most is Personal Reflections on Teaching Health Law in a School of Public Health that I wrote for JLME's Teaching Health Law column in 2011. My favorite presentation was in 2013 at the Manhattan Institute where I defended Michael Bloomberg’s public health regulations to a derisive libertarian audience. I still have the scars to prove it, but I got in a few good potshots of my own!

5. What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
My two favorite free time activities are bicycling and playing the piano. I’m also an avid reader (primarily non-fiction). With my imminent retirement, I’ll have more time to pursue these activities.

Any summer vacation plans?
I don’t have summer travel plans, but my wife and I may spend time in Italy and Spain during the winter.

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