A Warrior for a Healthier, More Equitable America

Feb 27, 2015, 4:23 PM, Posted by Risa Lavizzo-Mourey

Andy Hyman / RWJF Andrew D. Hyman, JD

Andy Hyman was a warrior for a healthier, more equitable America.

He dedicated his life and career to social justice and progress for the most vulnerable people among us. As a government official, advocate, and philanthropic leader, Andy was tenacious in his pursuit of a singular vision: that everyone in America would have the coverage necessary to access high quality health care—physical, behavioral, or both.

And what incredible success he had.

A few years ago, Andy noted: “Sadly, 50 million of our fellow Americans—nearly one in six of us—are uninsured.” He was determined to change that, and his efforts to ensure that people enrolled in coverage—whether it be Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or marketplace plans under the Affordable Care Act—have paid off.

Today, millions of low- and middle-income families are able to enjoy a level of improved health, financial stability, and peace of mind they never have before.

Former U.S. Congressman Patrick Kennedy told me today, “Andy had a profound effect on the movement.”

“Every fiber of his body was genuinely and fully committed to the achievement of high quality, affordable health coverage and care for everyone,” said Ron Pollack, the founding executive director of Families USA. “For those of us engaged in this noble cause, Andy was a soul brother.”

Andy was a giant in the field of health reform. He was trusted, admired, and loved by the many people who shared his vision.

Chris Jennings, who served as a senior health policy adviser in the Clinton and Obama White Houses, lauded Andy’s “indisputable legacy of achievement that has and will continue to improve the lives and health of millions of people.”

Jack Ebeler, a former Department of Health and Human Services official and a long-time health policy leader remembers Andy’s critically important efforts “to stimulate attention to and solutions for the uninsured at a time when it was easier to be skeptical because the political environment was not receptive.”

Andy worked tirelessly to create the State Health Reform Assistance Network to help states implement the coverage provisions of the health care law. The program’s director, Heather Howard, recalled that Andy “uniquely understood the perils in implementation, and embraced the challenge.” In doing so, “he helped states achieve the biggest expansion of health coverage since the 1960s.”

But Andy didn’t only focus on how state governments would implement the law. He also made sure that consumer advocates had a seat at the tables where decisions are made. To that aim, he helped establish Consumer Voices for Coverage, a national program designed to strengthen the role consumer advocates play in state health reform efforts.

Community Catalyst’s Susan Sherry, who leads the Consumer Voices for Coverage program, praised Andy for creating “incredibly vibrant, smart, and effective permanent consumer health advocacy on the ground—where it matters most to real people.“

Lynn Blewett, of the University of Minnesota’s State Health Access Data Assistance Center said, “Andy believed in the power of data and information to transform debate, in effective communication to influence policy, and in not accepting the status quo.“

“Andy was a visionary risk taker who worked tirelessly to support research and policies aimed at improving the lives of the vulnerable people around the country about whom he cared so deeply and wanted to help,” said Genevieve Kenney, co-director of the Health Policy Center at the Urban Institute. “He was not afraid to find ways to work around the rules to get things done and was willing to stick his neck out to try new things if he thought it would help achieve important goals.”

Sabrina Corlette, project director at Georgetown University's Center on Health Insurance Reforms, called Andy “the best of all possible partners. He asked the tough questions, made us do our due diligence and held us to the highest of high standards. When it was time to start work, he placed his total trust and confidence in us.”

Bruce Lesley, head of First Focus, a national children’s advocacy group, praised Andy’s talent for connecting people across divides, “whether they were Democrats, Republicans, and Independents; or consumers, insurers, advocates, and business leaders—toward the goal of finding common ground and solutions to our nation’s health care problems. He just knew that if he could get the right people to talk to each other that magic might happen.”

“He had a rare combination of wisdom and compassion, not to mention a wicked sense of humor,” said Karen Pollitz, a senior fellow with the Kaiser Family Foundation. Reflecting on their time as colleagues at the Department of Health and Human Services, Pollitz recalled, “We were young then, and determined to work for change so people could live securely and with dignity. For the rest of his life, Andy did that in so many profoundly important ways.”

Personally, I always appreciated and admired Andy’s passion for social change. He was brilliant, creative, charismatic, and funny. He was not beyond relentlessly pushing anyone—including me—out of the comfort zone, or even being a bit stubborn if he thought it would advance the cause of the disenfranchised.

At the Foundation, and among his social circles, Andy was known for going the extra mile to help colleagues and friends who were trying to navigate the health care maze. He always was willing to give of his personal knowledge and time when he knew it would benefit others.

Underneath it all beat the heart of a man with the highest principles, determined to improve the lives of the most disadvantaged people among us. He challenged us to uphold those same principles and to weave them into everything we do, just as he did.

At RWJF, we will not forget the lessons Andy taught us as we pursue his legacy of a healthier, more equitable society—one where a Culture of Health flourishes for everyone.

The nation lost a great man this week. All of us at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation are truly heartbroken, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family and beloved children.

As you think about Andy, recall Helen Keller’s words:  “What we have once enjoyed deeply we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.”

I hope you’ll take a moment to share a story or reflect on a memory about Andy in the comments section below.