By Amy Rothman Schonfeld ([email protected])

One year after its first conference, the American Society of Health Economists (ASHE) is clearly thriving. Its membership has grown to more than 800, planning for the next two biennial conferences has begun, an awards competition is in place, and many of the most prominent names in US health economics research have assumed leadership roles.

“There’s been tremendous evidence of a pent-up demand for this kind of association and meeting,” says Richard Arnould, PhD. of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, executive director of ASHE.

More than 500 attendees came to the first ASHE conference held last June in Madison, Wisconsin, USA. The conference offered 330 papers in 107 sessions and 90 posters. Joseph Newhouse and David Cutler of Harvard and B. Douglas Bernheim of Stanford gave keynote presentations. “More than 80% of respondents rated the papers high or very high in quality,” said Arnould. “I believe it is safe to say the inaugural conference was a smashing success.”

The newly instituted ASHE awards generated much excitement. Two awards went to outstanding health economists under age 40 – David Cutler and Jonathan Gruber – and one award went to a doctoral student, Grant Miller.
“One benefit of ASHE compared to an international organisation is that at an international meeting, it would be almost impossible to give an award to a graduate student because doctoral programs differ so much in structure and content around the world,” says Arnould.

Founders of ASHE believe that the association brings other benefits to the health economics community that IHEA does not. In an interview published in the first issue of the Newsletter of the American Society of Health Economists, ASHE president Jody Sindelar, PhD of Yale University writes: “ASHE provides an opportunity to bring together a community of scholars who share an in-depth interest in a similar set of topics. I think you get a better sense of affinity and community with people who share a common set of issues and facts. Some of these issues that are so important to people in the United States are not of interest to people in the international community. IHEA is not interested in some of these topics because they are not as broadly appealing to people in other countries. Health economists from other countries don’t feel a need to learn all about Medicaid or SCHPs, HMOs, PSOs, and other institutions and policies that are specific to the United States.”

ASHE members, however, remain active participants of IHEA. At present, ASHE is under the IHEA umbrella, but by 2010 it will become an independent organisation. Biennial conferences are arranged so that they will not conflict with ASHE conferences scheduled for even-numbered years while IHEA conferences will take place on odd-numbered years. The second biennial ASHE conference will take place June 22–25, 2008 at Duke University. The call for papers will be issued soon after the IHEA meeting in Copenhagen.

Dr. Sindelar outlines some of the future plans for ASHE: “One of the things I’m working on is an ASHE web page. A really informative web page will be of great benefit to ASHE members and students. If someone is going to teach a new course in health economics or healthcare finance, or a newly-minted PhD student wants some help getting started, they can have access to syllabi, some problem sets, and other teaching materials. There can also be links to other material available on the web. The newsletter is also important because in addition to being informative, it will give a sense of community and purpose in the profession.” For more information visit the ASHE website.