Katherine Hempstead, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

TITLE: Director

FUNDING AREAS: health insurance and health care for all

CONTACT: khempstead@rwjf.org, 877-843-7953

IP TAKE: Hempstead is a policy analyst by trade who now works on the front lines of efforts to expand healthcare coverage. 

PROFILE: The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) has been deeply immersed in the push to expand health coverage and make the Affordable Care Act work, as well as a variety of other state and local programs. It has a "Coverage" team that spearheads its work in this area, and that team is led by Katherine Hempstead. In 2013, RWJF made 80 grants to advance its coverage work.

Hempstead comes to this challenge as a serious wonk. Many of the grants she's overseen since coming to RWJF have focused on how quantitative policy analysis can further American access to quality health care. And while RWJF's coverage funding has recently placed most emphasis on actually getting people signed up for Obamacare—with big grants to Enroll America, for example—Hempstead and her colleagues clearly see good data as a critical tool in understanding what's working and what's not in efforts to expand coverage. A number of grants in the coverage area reflect a thirst for good data. For example:

  • $150,000 to UPenn's Law School to "monitor the Affordable Care Act by creating a publicly available database to document variation in characteristics of state marketplaces."
  • $239,279 to Emory University to examine "prior state Medicaid expansions and subsidies to assess families' insurance-coverage choices under the Afforadable Care Act."
  • $249,055 to the State of Oregon to test the impact of improved Medicaid outreach on enrollment rates, utilization, and health outcomes.

Another example of what Hempstead has funded is a study by Georgetown and the Urban Institute of how well 11 different states were doing at protecting consumers against high insurance premiums—which found that some states were going the extra mile and others were doing far less well. Yet another study looked at whether or not people with cancelled plans will be better off in the exchanges.

The battle to implement the ACA is sprawling and complicated, and Hempstead and her colleagues seem to be involved in nearly every last niche in this fight. But not all of Hempstead's focus is explicitly around the ACA (though for now that's always at least in the background). Other recent grants, that still belie her focus on systems and analyses, include almost $570,000 to establish the Greater New Brunswick (NJ) Community Health Collaboration in order "to influence the training, research, and medical care services at Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences;" $386,000 to the Alliance of Health Reform in order to "conduct issue briefings on health and health care policy for policy-makers, journalists, and officials of national business and health organizations to counter misunderstanding about current laws and to further learning from local efforts to improve health systems and population health;" and $750,000 to Washington University in St. Louis' George Warren Brown School of Social Work to improve "the ability of local public health professionals to practice evidence-based public health."

Hempstead's previous positions include directing the Center for Health Statistics in the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, performing statistical analysis for the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety, and researching, teaching, and publishing—particularly in the area of public health— at various universities. Hempstead is a University of Pennsylvania gal through and through.  She earned her bachelor's there in Economics and History, her master's in Demography, and a PhD in Demography and History.

In 2012, Hempstead helped shape a Harvard School of Public Health poll of American adults on priorities for health-care reform in the United States. The survey was funded with support from both the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Kaiser Family Foundation. Full results of the survey are here, but key takeaways include that while Americans continue to emphasize a need for deficit reduction, they do not want to sacrifice expanded health-care access in the process. (And theoretically, they shouldn't have to, considering that our current health-care system, however limited in its coverage, is grossly cost inefficient to the American taxpayer.)

Hempstead presents her research and the research she helps design and fund on the health-care conference circuit. In November 2012, she addressed Princeton's Center for Health and Wellbeing conference on the future of American health care and reform.