Honoring Andy Hyman: A Passionate Advocate for Health Equity

Aug 4, 2016, 9:37 AM, Posted by Brian C. Quinn

A new award celebrates and pays tribute to the life and work of Andy Hyman by recognizing a champion in the field of health advocacy.

My boss and mentor Andy Hyman was the kind of visionary leader who instilled a deep sense of hope in everyone he came into contact with. He inspired in us a feeling that anything was possible. It’s this kind of unwavering hope that is needed when pursuing seemingly insurmountable goals—like the goal of ensuring that everyone in America has access to affordable, quality health care coverage.

Andy led the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s (RWJF) work on health insurance coverage from 2006 until shortly before his untimely death in 2015. One of the things I vividly remember was his deep conviction—even when progress seemed elusive—that we could make major strides toward improving coverage for those who needed it the most. 

Among his many wonderful qualities, Andy had keen political foresight that revealed itself when I started working with him back in 2006. He predicted a window to put the spotlight on health reform in 2008, regardless of who was elected president. In preparation, he led our team in building evidence to make the case for health reform and in bolstering the capacity of community of advocates nationwide who could work on state-level reform. Once the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was enacted, Andy worked tirelessly to help implement it in the states.

Even in the face of discouraging setbacks, Andy’s infectious charisma, keen insight, and unrelenting tenacity kept up my spirits and energized all of his colleagues. For example, when the roll out of the federal health insurance exchange website got off to a rocky start and the Obama administration delayed the implementation of a key provision of the ACA, Andy sent us an email that put it all in perspective: 

"Despite the policy fluctuations, the headlines, and the ongoing political battle, health reform has already helped millions of people and will soon help millions more. We have to keep a hopeful eye on the horizon. This is our moment.” —Andy Hyman

Andy Hyman / RWJF Andy Hyman, visionary leader and health advocacy champion

Andy’s Enduring Accomplishments

To give you a sense of the sort of trailblazer Andy was, during his years at RWJF he launched several innovative programs that have left a lasting impact. He helped create and oversaw the State Health Reform Assistance Network to assist state officials in maximizing coverage expansions under the ACA. He was also part of the team that developed the Quick Strike Health Policy Analysis brief series. Produced by the Urban Institute through a grant by the RWJF, these briefs provide timely research and analysis on topics related to health insurance coverage and health care costs and have helped to inform and shape policy debates. In fact, Chief Justice John Roberts specifically cited Urban Institute research that Andy funded in his June 2015 majority opinion in King V. Burwell, which upheld key provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

Andy had unfaltering faith in the role of advocates—those who are championing a cause and fighting for the interests of the most vulnerable. A project he was particularly proud of was Consumer Voices for Coverage, a joint initiative of the RWJF and Community Catalyst designed to strengthen the role consumer advocates play in state health reform efforts. He believed that one of the most important things we could do as a Foundation was to ensure that consumer advocates had a voice in health policy discussions alongside policymakers, physician groups, hospitals, and insurers. In addition, he hoped to set an example that would encourage other foundations to support advocates.

And while Andy worked ceaselessly to advance our work, he was also genuinely caring on a personal level, making time to touch the lives of many of us in profound ways. One of my colleagues who also worked with Andy on coverage recalls how exceptionally supportive Andy was when her preschooler was diagnosed as having special needs. He took a personal interest, offering meaningful support by actively connecting her with substantial resources, and reassuring her that her family took priority over everything else.

Andy Hyman Award for Advocacy  

When Andy passed away, we wanted to find a way to honor his memory and decided to create an award that reflects his deep interest in empowering advocates. Beginning in 2017, the annual Andy Hyman Award for Advocacy will recognize a nonprofit or public sector champion who exhibits persistence, courage, and determination in the field of health advocacy.

The award, which carries a $5,000 honorarium, is administered by Grantmakers in Health (GIH) and funded by the RWJF. GIH Funding Partners may nominate any current or former grantee who works in the nonprofit or public sector. The award will be given to an individual, not an organization. Nominees should embody Andy’s commitment to principled action that advances social change and demonstrate a dedication to making progress in policy and practice despite challenging political environments.

For me, Andy’s most enduring legacy is that he taught us to never be satisfied. If he were here today, I believe he would push us to keep going, never give up, and to continue working to make sure that everyone in America has stable, affordable insurance coverage. He would say that if we keep taking the long view, in time we’ll have the success we envision.

By creating the Andy Hyman Advocacy Award, we hope to highlight the work of those who are fighting for meaningful access to health care and who can catalyze and inspire people in the same way that Andy did.

Brian Quinn, PhD, is assistant vice president of Research, Evaluation, and Learning at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation with an extensive background in health policy analysis and innovative program development. Read his full bio.