TORONTO — As commutes go, it’s a pretty formidable one. With the working week approaching, Sherry Glied leaves her home in New York City and hops on a plane to Washington, D.C.
After five days of putting in very long hours, she reverses direction and heads back to the Big Apple to spend the weekend with her husband and two young children.
It’s quite a grind, but for a health-care economist, being at the centre of the health-care universe in Washington is a dream come true.
Glied, 49, is living the dream as assistant secretary for planning and evaluation in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. As such, she serves as principal advisor to Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of health and human services, who is implementing “Obamacare,” the U.S. government’s ambitious health-care agenda.
In her capacity as a senior administrator, Glied heads a 110-person team. “We provide policy analysis, evaluate existing programs, and staff teams to figure out how to implement health policy,” she said on the phone from Muskoka in northern Ontario.
Glied was visiting family during a summer respite from her busy schedule. The daughter of Monika and Bill Glied of Toronto, she attended Bialik Hebrew Day School briefly before enrolling in Associated Hebrew Schools. After high school, she earned a degree in economics at Yale University, studied law at the University of Toronto and then earned a PhD at Harvard as a health economist.
A career academic whose research has focused on the financing of health-care services in the United States, Glied advanced from her job as assistant professor at Columbia University to a full professorship in health policy and management and then as chair of the department.
“I got a great job at Columbia, to my mother’s eternal chagrin. I married an American and I’m stuck,” she said.
A dual citizen, Glied served as a senior economist for health-care and labour market policy to the President’s Council of Economic Advisers under presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
While still on leave from university, she worked with then-first lady Hillary Clinton in trying to re-make American health care.
“I was always interested in social policy and how you can make people better off,” Glied said. That included “lots of statistical research and data analysis.”
An Obama political appointee, before taking office she appeared before a Senate committee to be questioned by lawmakers. She was confirmed on June 22 and took office shortly after that.
“I’ve always been a big proponent of universal health insurance,” she said, noting that this is something the current plan envisions.
“The Obama policy is not particularly a government one,” she said. “It wants to make sure everybody has coverage.”
Implementing the health-care bill of more than 2,000 pages is a monumental task, and though it doesn’t take full effect until 2014, some of it is already operational. One such provision allows children to stay covered under their parents’ health-care insurance until they turn 26, she said.
The health-care plan has proven fairly unpopular in the United States – RealClearPolitics’ late August average of polling data shows 52 per cent oppose it versus 39 per cent in favour – with critics pointing to, among other issues, the provision that allows adults to still be covered by their parents’ insurance.
Glied acknowledges that there is opposition to the plan and that “some people are concerned the government is taking too big a role and that quality will diminish and they are afraid that they will pay more to take care of other people.”
But, she said, “I think it is perfectly possible for the system to work effectively [to extend] coverage and not cost a lot more money. The way the system works now is that there is universal coverage for those 65 and over [in Medicare]. The new people coming in are not terribly sick. On average, they don’t cost that much to cover.”
Glied said the United States spends much more on health care than other countries, “with not much better outcomes.”
“By being more efficient with existing programs for those 65 and older,” you can find cost savings, she said.
So, does the Canadian experience in providing universal health care influence her views?
“I’m neither a proponent or a critic of the Canadian health system. I believe, consistent with Jewish values, that people should have access to health care.
“Virtually all other countries have universal health insurance, except the United States. No two systems are the same.”
Though only on the job for a couple of months, Glied feels she’s hit the jackpot. “It’s very exciting. It’s a wonderful opportunity for someone who’s devoted their life to this to make a difference. It’s not often in public life you get a chance to do something important. It’s a widespread feeling in the office,” she said.