Research News

New faculty: John Graves plays role in shaping national health policy

John Graves (John Russell/Vanderbilt)
John Graves (John Russell/Vanderbilt)

Throughout his career, John Graves has often found himself in the right place at the right time. But a career pinnacle came in 2008, when he was part of the team hired by the Obama administration to provide statistical and economic evidence that would inform the development of the Affordable Care Act.

After graduating from the University of the South in 2003 with degrees in economics and English literature, Graves went to work at the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan Washington, D.C., think tank for economic and social policy. By 2006, he was providing number-crunching support to Massachusetts policymakers working on then-Gov. Mitt Romney’s groundbreaking health care reforms.

In 2007, Graves went to work with Jonathan Gruber, an economist and professor at MIT who shared a strong interest in health policy modeling. Once the Obama administration settled in, the team was hired to provide guidance to the newly created White House Office of Health Reform.

“Policymakers would come to us with ideas for how to change health care law, and we could quickly tell them how those changes would impact the federal budget and the insurance coverage landscape in the United States,” Graves said.

The next year and a half kept him busy with health policy modeling, completing his Ph.D. in health policy at Harvard and a teaching stint at the Kennedy School of Government. Though there was little time for sleep, Graves said those 18 months can’t be topped for their role in the development of national policy.

Now an assistant professor at Vanderbilt School of Medicine where he holds appointments in the departments of medicine and preventive medicine, Graves said he is sleeping more, but his work is every bit as exciting as in his previous life—and more fulfilling on a personal level.

“[rquote]Now I am at ground level, working with the physicians and nurses delivering care,” he said.[/rquote] “Vanderbilt’s unique infrastructure allows for rigorous, real-time evaluation of projects that seek to reorganize the way care is delivered to improve quality and reduce unnecessary costs.”

Graves also works with a number of collaborators to design ways to test health care policies that allow for continuous increases in quality while providing care in a cost-effective way. These collaborations have yielded a number of high-profile publications in top medical, economic and policy journals and have helped place Vanderbilt squarely in the national health reform debate.

Graves said he looks forward to more collaboration across the Vanderbilt campus—and teases his old colleagues about his work here.

“There is a lot of action in the health policy arena here in Nashville,” he said. “I tell my colleagues that I feel like the only kid in a candy store.”