June 6, 2013

Buntin to chair new Department of Health Policy

Melinda Buntin, Ph.D., deputy assistant director for Health at the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), will become chair of the new Department of Health Policy at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in late August.

Melinda Buntin, Ph.D., deputy assistant director for Health at the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), will become chair of the new Department of Health Policy at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in late August.

Melinda Buntin, Ph.D.

The new department represents a reorganized and growing version of the Department of Preventive Medicine, chaired for 31 years by William Schaffner, M.D., who will continue his teaching and research duties at Vanderbilt, including his work with the Emerging Infections Program (EIP), a population-based network including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state health departments who work with collaborators (academic centers, local health departments, infection control practitioners, and other federal agencies) to assess the public health impact of emerging infections and to evaluate methods for their prevention and control.

“Dr. Buntin’s timely recruitment brings significant insights into current and future pressures facing our nation’s health care system while also creating an exciting opportunity for growth in Vanderbilt’s national leadership in health policy research and design, thus furthering our ability to bring a multi-disciplinary approach toward solving the many public health challenges we face,” said Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs and dean of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “Dr. Schaffner’s long-serving, forward-thinking approach to public health issues leaves a strong foundation for Dr. Buntin to build upon.”

At the CBO, Buntin has been responsible for managing and directing studies of health care and health care financing issues in the Health, Retirement and Long-Term Analysis Division. The CBO analyzes health issues and policies that affect the federal budget, including Medicare, Medicaid, subsidies for the purchase of private insurance, public health and private health insurance markets.

“This is a watershed moment for the Medical Center and the University,” said Robert Dittus, M.D., MPH, associate vice chancellor for Public Health and Health Care, senior associate dean for Population Health Sciences, director of the Institute for Medicine and Public Health and the Albert and Bernard Werthan Professor of Medicine. “Melinda has been sitting at the heart of health care reform, and has expertise in health care financing and the implications of different models of health care financing and delivery, as well as in role and value of informatics to improve the quality and value of health care.

“At few times in our nation’s history has there been more attention on health care policy than over the past two years. She has her finger on the pulse of American health care policy and financing reform. She knows the key leaders, who admire her and think highly of her. We are very fortunate to have been able to recruit her,” Dittus said.

The new department will be a multi-disciplinary base for health policy research and design. The current department’s strengths in population-based epidemiology and prevention blend with cross-campus disciplines critically important to the health policy debate, including economics, law and business. The mission of the new department is to provide rigorous evidence and help drive public health decisions at the very highest level.

Prior to joining the CBO, Buntin was deputy director of RAND Health’s Economics, Financing and Organization Program, director of Public Sector Initiatives for RAND Health, and co-director of the Bing Center for Health Economics. Her research at RAND focused on insurance benefit design, health insurance markets, provider payment and the care use and needs of the elderly.

She also worked with the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, where she established and directed the economic analysis, evaluation and modeling group.

Buntin has an A.B. from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton and a Ph.D. in Health Policy with a concentration in economics from Harvard.

“The faculty and I are delighted that Dr. Buntin will be joining us and extend her a very warm welcome,” Schaffner said. “We look forward to working with her on an array of research and teaching endeavors that will strengthen our current activities and expand them into new areas.”

Buntin said her role at the CBO has prepared her well to lead the new department.

“My group at CBO confronts the entire range of health issues of interest to Congress, so during my time here I was able to work on a very wide range of challenging — and real — health policy questions. That perspective will be very valuable to me.”

At Vanderbilt, she plans to build on the existing strengths of affiliated faculty in areas such as health insurance coverage, preventive medicine and systems of care for the elderly, but in the future will also focus on building expertise in additional areas and bringing together multi-disciplinary teams to do the best work in the field.

Buntin said that Vanderbilt’s atmosphere of enthusiasm, collegiality and commitment are ideal for her.

“Passion for my work, productive relationships with my colleagues and research that can point the way to real improvements in health and health care are the key ingredients in career satisfaction for me,” she said. “At Vanderbilt it was clear that I would not only step into an environment where those things were already present, but I’d have the privilege of being able to ‘bake’ those ingredients into the new Department of Health Policy.”

Joining Buntin in Nashville will be her husband, John Buntin, a writer, and sons Oliver, 8, and Tom, 5.