Health Care Economist Who Founded His Field

Victor R. Fuchs

December 2023

Reading time min

Lauded for his field-defining accomplishments— including a groundbreaking book on the economics of health care—Victor Fuchs also was known for his jokes. “Our colleague Nate Rosenberg travels so often that the department decided to give him a chair—row 12D,” he’d deadpan in a stand-up routine for fellow professors. In his 90s, he’d say, “My doctor told me don’t worry, it’s all in your body.” Or he’d employ statisticians’ humor: “I used to say I was doing well, age-adjusted. But now the sample size is too small for me to comment.” 

Victor FuchsPhoto: Courtesy Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR)

Victor R. Fuchs, an emeritus professor of health research and policy and of economics who was often referred to as the dean of health care economists, died September 16 at his home on the Stanford campus. He was 99. 

Fuchs came to Stanford in 1974. He’d negotiated a then-rare joint appointment to both the department of health research and policy in the School of Medicine and the department of economics in the School of Humanities and Sciences. That same year saw the publication of Fuchs’s Who Shall Live? Health, Economics and Social Choice, a cost-benefit analysis of the quality of medical care in the United States; it has never been out of print. A third edition of the book, co-authored by Karen Eggleston, director of Stanford’s Asia Health Policy Program, was published in September. 

In the 1960s, at the National Bureau of Economics Research, Fuchs expressed an interest in pursuing questions of health economics, but the bureau’s then-president, Arthur Burns, was skeptical. In a letter to Quigg Newton, president of the Commonwealth Fund, after a chance meeting, Fuchs shared his ideas and requested funding. He received it—“a very substantial amount,” he told historian Claudia Goldin in a March 2002 interview for the NBER. “I showed Arthur the check, and he withdrew all his objections.” 

Some considered it taboo, even indecent, to introduce economic realism to the medical setting, but “Vic made people understand that resources all come out of the same pot,” says Ezekiel Emanuel, a bioethicist, oncologist, and co-director of the Healthcare Transformation Institute at the University of Pennsylvania, whose collaborations with Fuchs include a 2005 proposal for a voucher plan for universal health coverage. “He defined health economics as a field. He engineered a change in perception and set the agenda to find ways to solve a new problem.” Fuchs’s work, says professor of medicine Sara Singer, “shaped the thinking of hundreds, maybe thousands of leading academics.”

Fuchs was predeceased by his wife, Beverly, in 2007. He is survived by his children, Nancy Fuchs Kreimer, Fred, Ken, and Paula; 10 grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

John Roemer is a freelance writer based in Sausalito, Calif. Email him at stanford.magazine@stanford.edu.

You May Also Like

© Stanford University. Stanford, California 94305.