Our Friend, Peter Harbage

The California health policy community lost a dear friend and wonderful colleague on February 3. Peter Harbage, a health reformer in California government and on the national stage, leaves an indelible imprint on state and federal health policy.

He worked often with CHCF, and we celebrate his lifelong commitment to improving coverage and care for people with low incomes. Peter’s recent focus on how best to integrate care for those who are dually eligible for Medi-Cal and Medicare and his national leadership on Delivery System Reform Incentive Payments (DSRIPs) are two examples of his substantial contributions to the field.

I first met Peter on a visit to Washington, DC, where I was part of a state delegation meeting with then US Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala on California’s implementation of the Healthy Families program. Peter was a special assistant at HHS — he was young, smart, and eager to see coverage expanded. He asked our team hard questions and then worked to help get our proposal into a shape that could be approved.

Peter HarbageThe next time I encountered Peter, he was serving as assistant secretary to Grantland Johnson at the California Health and Human Services Agency. Peter and I shared the habit of staying late at our desks, and we frequently ended up talking health policy over the phone into the wee hours. We became friends working on the five State Plan amendments that California submitted in the first three years of implementation of Healthy Families.

Peter moved east, and then moved west — always involved in campaigning for reform and always certain that reform was both possible and imminent. Along the way he fell in love and married Hilary Haycock, his soul mate, in the belief that by working together we can make the world a better place.

In the years after his leukemia diagnosis, Peter was a source of inspiration. His resolute approach to engaging life and living every moment to the fullest gave me courage and hope. His passion for work never dimmed. His openness regarding his personal struggles and his generosity in sharing joy when he felt strong and healthy brightened the good weeks. For the new year, Hilary and Peter sent cards celebrating their life together with a photo of them on horseback in the snow. He was vibrant and driven by an unwavering commitment to social change.

Our thoughts and heartfelt sympathies go out to Hilary and to Peter’s colleagues at Harbage Consulting in Sacramento.

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