UW-Madison: Health Economist Takes Over as Director of La Follette School

MADISON – Health economist Barbara Wolfe has succeeded the retiring Donald Nichols
as director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Robert M. La Follette School of
Public Affairs.

Wolfe, a professor of economics and population health sciences, takes over
leadership of a highly regarded graduate program that offers domestic and
international degrees in public policy and administration.

“Bobbi is a nationally known expert in the economics of health care and a talented
researcher with the administrative skills to build on La Follette’s excellent
reputation,” says Gary Sandefur, dean of the College of Letters and Science. “We’re
also tremendously thankful to have had Don Nichols lead the school and enrich its
national prominence during his tenure.”

Wolfe, who has served on the UW-Madison faculty since 1977, hopes to heighten the
awareness of the school’s hands-on work with Wisconsin communities and its
pioneering research in public policy.

In the last semester alone, graduate students and faculty were involved with
analyzing the state’s shared revenue program, evaluating the Department of Natural
Resources’ Green Tier environmental program and studying billing practices at
Milwaukee Health Department clinics, as well as other projects, including
internationally focused projects.

“I think it’s important that people recognize the real-world projects that our
faculty and students are regularly involved with as an extension of the Wisconsin
Idea, and the solutions they are finding to problems in government,” Wolfe says.

It’s that sort of hands-on approach that has become a trademark of the school. Wolfe
says the practical experience is vital to students hoping to make careers in public
policy fields.

“It’s an exciting place,” she says. “The students here are special because they are
going into an area that doesn’t traditionally pay well. There is something unique
about their enthusiasm and commitment. We specialize in personal attention to our
students, and we’re quite proud off that.”

To emphasize the work that the school and its affiliates are doing, Wolfe would like
to create a seminar series and periodically offer a larger symposium to address
topical issues.

Wolfe’s research focuses broadly on poverty and health issues, and includes analysis
of the effect of expansions of public health insurance on health-care coverage and
the labor force, the association of income with health, and trends in health among
various U.S. populations. She is also a faculty affiliate of the UW-Madison’s
Institute for Research on Poverty.

Because of the importance of health issues in society, she would like to see the
school place more emphasis on the study of health care.

“I really hope to build up the health policy component of the program, because we’re
all grappling with issues involving health policy, the high cost of health care and
the concerns that arise from it,” she says. “The health care area needs increasing
numbers of people who do high quality health care analysis.”