Dr. Philip Lee, an architect of Medicare, nation’s first assistant secretary of health, dies at 96

Dr. Philip Lee, who was a leading force in the implementation of the Medicare program as the nation’s first assistant secretary of health, died earlier this week, according to a notice from the University of California San Francisco, where he served as chancellor.

Lee, who formed the Health Policy Program at UCSF—what would come to be the Philip R. Lee Institute of Health Policy Studies—served as assistant secretary of health under Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton.

“Dr. Lee embodied UCSF’s longstanding commitment to advocating for health equity at the national, state, and regional levels,” said UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood, in the statement on the UCSF website. “Throughout his life, and during his tenure as chancellor, he was an indefatigable champion for the underserved. We can take inspiration from his example in our continued work to build a more just society, with equal access to quality, affordable health care for all,” Hawgood said.

In addition, Lee was active in physician payment reform and other areas of policy research. “Name and aspect of either analyzing healthcare or of formulating reforms, Phil Lee was there for decades and decades,” said Chip Kahn, president and CEO of the Federation of American Hospitals. Moreover, Kahn said Lee was an amiable person even though the two didn’t necessarily agree on policy issues. “He was always really nice to and I appreciated that,” Kahn said.

Lee was 96 when he died, and was a son of Dr. Russel Van Arsdale Lee, founder of the Palo Alto Medical Clinic, now the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, according to UCSF. He joined the clinic after graduating from Stanford School of Medicine and served in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War. It was at the clinic where he acquired a life-long interest in reducing healthcare disparities.

“There are few people who have done as much for public health as Phil Lee,” said Lew Butler, who served as associate directof Lee’s Health Policy Program. “He was instrumental in leading the efforts to incorporate the necessary regulation that resulted in desegregation of hospitals in the South. Phil insisted that if hospitals did not do so, they would not be eligible to receive Medicare and Medicaid funds.”

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