October 10, 2012

Why We Do What We Do: Zack Cooper

Zack Cooper, Ph.D., assistant professor of public health and of economics at Yale University, was drawn to the field of health care economics during the first class he took at the London School of Economics taught by Professor Julian Le Grand. Former policy advisor to Tony Blair, Le Grand’s class combined academic rigor with policy relevance and showed the difference that good policy could make in peoples’ lives.

Dealing with emotionally-impactful decisions – putting a price on medical treatments or structuring policies that could literally save thousands of lives – brought humanity to the work of being an economist for Zack. “I like that health care combines theory with a hugely emotive and important topic – something we each touch in our lives,” he explains. “I really wanted my work to make a difference, so focusing on health care made sense.”

Zack feels strongly that public policy should be guided by evidence, not ideology. This belief shaped his desire to produce research that can directly influence policy and help address the challenges we face in the here and now. He remembers when Prime Minister David Cameron was regularly citing his work, which found that hospital competition reduced hospital death rates. “That made me quite optimistic because here was a politician citing academic evidence – I thought that was hugely positive; and I began to see that my work was shifting public opinion on an important topic.”

At Yale, Zack focuses on expanding his research into three areas: looking what has caused the price of hospital care in the U.S. to rise over the last decade; comparing hospital performance across the U.S., Canada, England and the Netherlands; and seeing whether good hospital management can improve patient outcomes.

Zack hopes that his work continues to have an impact on public policy to help save lives, and illustrates how we can get health care spending in the U.S. under control.

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