In Remembrance of My Dear Friend Andy Hyman

Health

The world is a better place because of Andy Hyman, as he dedicated his life to the health and well-being of all Americans, but in particular, our nation’s uninsured. Over the course of the 14 years that I knew him, I met nobody more committed to and focused on providing health coverage and access to care to the tens of millions of Americans who couldn’t afford health insurance.

Andy was always thinking about, analyzing, questioning, second-guessing, and reanalyzing different approaches and tactics to addressing this problem. He could analyze and argue difficult policy issues from different perspectives and would challenge you to think differently about it as well – sometimes annoyingly.

At work, his passion for health justice was unparalleled. In his private life, his commitment and dedication to his family and friends was unrivaled. And when his public and private lives came together, Andy’s generosity to all was unsurpassed. People all across this country thought of Andy as both their work colleague and as a close friend.

Andy was also all about bringing people together in friendship or toward a common cause. When I read Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point, I immediately thought of Andy when Gladwell described the importance of people who are “connectors” in bringing about change. As Gladwell explains, “Sprinkled among every walk of life. . .are a handful of people with a truly extraordinary knack of making friends and acquaintances. They are Connectors.”

Gladwell adds, “I don’t think that we spend a lot of time thinking about the importance of these kinds of people” but they are the people who “link us up with the world. . . , who introduce us to our social circles – these people on whom we rely on more heavily than we realize – are Connectors, people with a very special gift for bringing people together.”

Andy had that gift, as he loved bringing people together – whether they were Democrats, Republicans, and Independents or consumers, insurers, advocates, and business leaders – toward the goal of finding common ground and solutions to our nation’s health care and political problems. He just knew that if he could get the right people to talk to each other that magic might happen, even in Washington, D.C. And, he was right about that.

Those who knew him personally or professionally have little choice but to know other people all across this country because of an Andy Hyman convening or introduction. If you have ever spent much time talking to Andy, you will have invariably heard him say something like, “You should talk about that with…”, “I need to introduce you to…”, or “Let’s have a conversation about that with…”

Nearly a decade ago, at the birthday party for our mutual friend Roger Sherman, Andy told me and another very close friend of his, Lisa Shapiro, that the two of us really needed to be working together on health care reform. At his directive and ever since, we have been working together in both Senator Jeff Bingaman’s office and at First Focus on children’s health care coverage. That was classic Andy, the Connector.

It is also classic Andy to be a walking dichotomy. He was always seeking compromise toward his rather uncompromising goal of providing health insurance coverage and health justice to every single American. Toward that end, I have seen him tackle national health reform, state health reform, insurance reform, affordability, access to care, service delivery, system change, public health, health care quality, enrollment simplification, children’s health, mental health, immigrant health, and just about anything that he could think of that would be important to improve what is the world’s most complicated health care system through policy change in our nation’s very dysfunctional Congress – a nearly impossible task and cause.

To that end, he was also always thinking ahead about the research, the data, the policy choices, and the communications that might make progress and sense in a rather nonsensical political environment. But, he was successfully. You can point to efforts to enact mental health parity, enroll millions of children in the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and to the passage of health care reform as efforts where Andy played an important and significant role.

Another great thing about Andy is that, in just about whatever endeavor he undertook, he always did it with incredible wit, wisdom, and humor. It was a wit that could be either charming or sarcastic, and it was often absolutely hilarious. But, this was also part of his dichotomy because, although his underlying feelings might be filled with sorrow and pain, he could still be engaging and generous to others with his time and attention.

I will dearly miss Andy and will always remember that people all across this country are better off because of his work, his drive, and his gift. That is his legacy. And for those of us who knew him well, we will miss him dearly, as we are all better off for having been his collaborator, his colleague, and his friend.

For more on his legacy, please read this tribute to him by Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, President of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.