Sunday, March 5, 2017

RIP | Dorothy Pechman Rice, Health Economist

Dorothy Pechman Rice (1922-2017)
Dorothy Pechman Rice, a government economist and statistician whose research helped establish the case for Medicare in 1965, died on Feb. 25 in Oakland, Calif. She lived in Piedmont Gardens in Oakland.

She was 94. She was associated as a professor at the Institute of Aging at School of Nursing at the University of California, San Francisco.

The UCSF Institute website shows photos of 32 faculty and staff associated with it today. But Rice was working in a new field when she was an analyst at the Social Security Administration in 1964. A study she worked on highlighted that half the population 65 and over had no health insurance. The number was then 8.5 million uninsured older people, she wrote in a 1964 issue of the Social Security Bulletin. Jonathan Oberlander, author of The Political Life of Medicare (2003), called Mrs. Rice an “extraordinary researcher.” The timing was good, as President Lyndon Johnson had widespread support for an expansion of government services in the wake of the assassination of JFK.

Interest in elderly people as a political force as well as a market was growing at that time in part because of the creation of the American Association for Retired People, backed by the Colonial Penn Insurance Company. My father, E. R. Marlin, was recruited after he retired from the State Department to create the International Federation on Ageing [sic] in the late 1960s. He had devoted two decades creating and then helping to manage the International Civil Aviation Organization, the U.N. agency devoted to commercial airline safety.

Rice was born in Brooklyn on June 11, 1922. She attended Brooklyn College for a year, then transferred to the University of Wisconsin, earning a B.A. in economics. She moved to Washington to become a statistical clerk for the Department of Labor, then worked as an economist at the U.S. Public Health Service. She said she "did well" as a female economist because of the shortage of analytical staff during World War II.

Dorothy Rice became director of the National Center for Health Statistics, where she worked on estimates of the costs of treating people with heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, disabilities and strokes. This is the work that Rice said in her 2010 interview that she was proudest of.

At UCSF, she participated in studies on the financial costs of cigarette smoking, estimating in 1998 that smoking-related illnesses cost Medicaid $12.9 billion a year ($19.2 billion today). Mrs. Rice told The Los Angeles Times: “Any global settlement with the tobacco industry should go beyond $368 billion.” It was eventually cut to about $250 million over 25 years.

Rice is survived by her sons Tom, a UCLA economist, Kenneth and Donald. Her brother, Joseph A. Pechman, a well-known tax scholar and director of economic studies at the Brookings Institution, died in 1989. Her husband died in 2005.

Sources: Obituary by Richard Sandomir, The NY Times, and sources cited above.