In Memoriam: Philip R. Lee

April 17, 1924 - October 27, 2020

The following message was shared with faculty, staff, and National Advisory Board members of the UCSF Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies (IHPS) by Interim Director Daniel Dohan, Director Emerita Claire Brindis, and Incoming Director Joanne Spetz.

Philip R. LeeI write on behalf of Claire, Joanne, and myself with the sad news that Philip R. Lee, MD, who founded the UCSF Institute for Health Policy Studies (IHPS) after a dynamic career in government and as UCSF Chancellor, died peacefully earlier this week in Manhattan.

Dr. Lee was a trail-blazing leader. Nearly five decades after he established IHPS, his commitment to social justice and addressing the needs of the disadvantaged and his vision of health policy as a transdisciplinary and transformative endeavor remain the Institute’s guiding principles. Born in San Francisco in 1924, Dr. Lee completed undergraduate and medical training at Stanford, taught at NYU and at Stanford, and was a staff physician at the Palo Alto Medical Clinic. He contributed to global health during his 1963-1965 tenure with the Agency for International Development and went on to serve as Assistant Secretary for Health in two administrations. During his first term as Assistant Secretary (1965-69), he played a leading role in the transformation of the nation’s healthcare through the establishment of Medicare, Medicaid, and numerous other programs that contributed to improvements in health for older adults, low-income people, and other vulnerable populations. Notably, Dr. Lee worked to develop policies for the newly created Medicare program that prompted the desegregation of thousands of hospitals nationwide.

Dr. Lee came to UCSF as the campus’ third Chancellor and served in that role from 1969-1972. Upon stepping down, he established the innovative Health Policy Program at UCSF. The Policy Program flourished under his vision and leadership with notable research programs in health services and prices, reproductive health, and medical ethics as well as dynamic training programs for health professionals and social and policy scientists. Dr. Lee grew the Program into an Organized Research Unit of the University of California in 1981. He guided Institute work related to the HIV/AIDS epidemic and served as the first President of the San Francisco Health Commission during an extraordinarily challenging period for health in our City. He headed the Physician Payment Review Commission as it sought to reform Medicare in the mid-1980s and was called back to Washington to again serve as Assistant Secretary for Health during the Clinton Administration.

Dr. Lee’s contributions to research and practice cover a full variety of health policy fields: health workforce, physician payment, family planning and reproductive health policy, health care for the elderly, Native American health issues, nutrition, prescription drug policy, HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, affirmative action and diversity in medical education, and health care reform. Moreover, his personal achievements in health policy and health are magnified many times over by those of his trainees and mentees who number in the hundreds around the globe.

It is fitting that the Institute carries his name. His example and memory will continue to inspire our work for decades to come.

A fuller biography of Dr. Lee’s many activities and accomplishments may be found here and the UCSF announcement of his passing may be found here.