Jonathan B. Oberlander

Professor, Social Medicine and Health Policy & Management, University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill

Leading authority on the politics of health care and health care reform.

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Jonathan Oberlander is a political scientist and leading authority on health care politics and policy. His perspective is deeply researched, historically informed, and practical rather than ideological.

He has special expertise in the politics of health care reform and has researched the Obama administration's plan for health care reform and cost control. Jonathan also has studied health policy and its implications for medicine, including Medicare, Medicaid, and various efforts by states to expand health care coverage.

Recent articles have examined topics ranging from Medicare’s prescription drug benefit to lessons from past health reform episodes and the fight over renewing the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Jonathan is the author and co-editor of two books on health care policy:

In The Political Life of Medicare, Dr. Oberlander chronicles the political development of Medicare from 1965 to the present and analyzes how the political consensus that produced Medicare has subsequently unraveled.

The Social Medicine Reader gathers essays into three volumes on Patients, Doctors and Illness; Social Contributions to Health, Difference and Inequity; and Health Policy, Markets and Medicine.

Jonathan Oberlander is Professor of Social Medicine and Health Policy & Management at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. He also holds an adjunct appointment in the Department of Political Science and teaches in the School of Medicine.

Articles and opinion pieces by Professor Oberlander have appeared in New York Review of Books, New England Medicine, Annals of Internal Medicine, Health Affairs, Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law, The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times.

Dr. Oberlander has commented on health reform for a number of media outlets, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, NPR, the BBC, CBS News and PBS.


  • Professor of Social Medicine and Health Policy & Management, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
  • Adjunct Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, UNC-Chapel Hill.
  • Author, The Political Life of Medicare
  • Co-editor, The Social Medicine Reader
  • Visiting scholar, Russell Sage Foundation (2008-2009 academic year) Ph.D. and M.A. in political science, Yale University; B.A. in political science, University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill


The Social Medicine Reader

Second Edition: Vol. 3: Health Policy, Markets, and Medicine

Jonathan Oberlander (Editor), Larry P. Churchill, Sue E. Estroff, Gail E. Henderson, Nancy M. P. King, and Ronald P. Strauss

Over the past four decades the American health care system has witnessed dramatic changes in private health insurance, campaigns to enact national health insurance, and the rise (and perhaps fall) of managed care. Bringing together seventeen pieces new to this second edition of The Social Medicine Reader with four classic pieces from the first edition, Health Policy, Markets, and Medicine draws on a broad range of disciplinary perspectives — including political science, economics, history, and bioethics — to consider these changes and the future of U.S. health policy. Contributors analyze the historical and moral foundation of today’s policy debates, examine why health care spending is so hard to control in the United States, and explain the political dynamics of Medicare and Medicaid. Selections address the rise of managed care, its impact on patients and physicians, and the ethical implications of applying a business ethos to medical care and compare the American health care system to the those of European countries, Canada, and Japan. Additional readings probe contemporary policy issues, including the emergence of consumer-driven health care, efforts to move quality of care to the top of the policy agenda, and the implications of the aging of America for public policy.

Duke University Press; 2 edition (September 30, 2005)


"A superb collection of essays that illuminate the role of medicine in modern society. Students and general readers are not likely to find anything better."
— Arnold S. Relman, Professor Emeritus of Medicine and Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School

Praise for the first edition: "This reviewer strongly recommends The Social Medicine Reader to the attention of medical educators."
— Samuel W. Bloom, JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association

The Political Life of Medicare

American Politics and Political Economy

Jonathan B. Oberlander

In recent years, bitter partisan disputes have erupted over Medicare reform. Democrats and Republicans have fiercely contested issues such as prescription drug coverage and how to finance Medicare to absorb the baby boomers. As Jonathan Oberlander demonstrates in The Political Life of Medicare, these developments herald the reopening of a historic debate over Medicare's fundamental purpose and structure. Revealing how Medicare politics and policies have developed since Medicare's enactment in 1965 and what the program's future holds, Oberlander's timely and accessible analysis will interest anyone concerned with American politics and public policy, health care politics, aging, and the welfare state.

University Of Chicago Press (June 1, 2003)


Jonathan tailors each presentation to the needs of his audience and is not limited to the topics we have listed below. These are subjects that have proven valuable to customers in the past and are meant only to suggest his range and interests. Please ask us about any subject that interests you; we are sure that we can accommodate you.

The Politics of Health Care Reform

Few people know more than Jonathan Oberlander about the efforts now underway in the Obama administration to reform the healthcare system and to control its costs—or the political obstacles and issues these efforts must overcome. He has studied past (and recurring) attempts to reform healthcare going back to 1912 and the lessons that history has to offer about what works and what doesn't. He's also studied the reform movements and healthcare systems of other countries and the lessons these other models provide for America. And he has studied the efforts that some states have made in reforming health care more locally. In addition to his breadth of knowledge in the politics of health care, Dr. Oberlander brings to his audiences an independent perspective that's practical rather than ideological in approach.


A major cardiovascular health association:
The program was great — it hung together really nicely right to the end. Here is the feedback from the Chicago program — really excellent:

  • A genius – presentation & content great – used humor well.
  • Excellent speaker
  • Great slides – brought ideas down to earth
  • Great speaker & content, able to take tough complex content & make it understandable
  • Outstanding! Simplified (for me) a complex history and future implications. Learned also from extended Q&A sessions.
  • Appreciated his presentation mix of humor
  • Very interesting way of presenting information.
  • Good info on fronts for any industry.
  • Thoughtful, entertaining, beneficial

A regional hospital:

Oh my God, he just knocked it out of the ballpark.

My CEO, who never has anything to say about speakers, said it was the most balanced approach and informative speech that he has ever heard on health reform.