William Hsiao

K.T. Li Professor of Economics, Emeritus



Department Website


William Hsiao is the K.T. Li Research Professor of Economics in Department of Health Policy and Management and Department of Global Health and Population, at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. He received his Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard University. He is also a fully qualified actuary with extensive experience in private and social insurance. Dr. Hsiao’s health economic and policy research program spans across developed and less developed nations.

He is a leading global expert in universal health insurance, which he has studied for more than forty years. He has been actively engaged in designing health system reforms and universal health insurance programs for many countries, including the USA, Taiwan, China, Colombia, Poland, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Sweden, Cyprus, Uganda and most recently for Malaysia and South Africa. He also designed a single payer universal insurance model for the state of Vermont which intended to serve as a vanguard for the USA. Vermont passed a law based on his recommendations. However the recent set-back in Vermont’s economic development has put the implementation of the single-payer system in question.

In his work for developing nations, Hsiao’s research focuses on sustainable financing mechanisms to provide health care for the poor rural population. With UNICEF’s support, he collaborates with seven universities in China to conduct a nationwide study on health care financing and provision for the 900 million poor Chinese at that time. Later, he carried out social experiment on community financing that resulted in reforming the design of China’s health insurance benefits for the 900 million rural residents and covered prevention and primary care. Currently, with the support of the Gates Foundation, he launched a large scale social experiment with a population of 600,000 to experiment models to improve the financing and delivery of basic health care for the 350 million low-income rural residents in China. This model is being replicated to the Western regions of China.

Hsiao developed the “control knobs” framework for diagnosing the causes for the successes or failures of national health systems. His analytical framework has shaped how we conceptualize national health systems, and has been used extensively by various nations around the world in health system reforms.

In his past research, Hsiao developed the resource-based relative value scale (RBRVS) for setting physician fees. The RBRVS quantified the variation in resource inputs for different physician services. Hsiao was named the Man of the Year in Medicine in 1989 for his development of a new payment method. Hsiao and his colleagues also developed a large scale simulation model that intends to assess the fiscal and health impacts produced by various national health insurance plans. Using time series/cross-sectional data, Hsiao’s team designed a multi-equation model that employs a number of variables to predict utilization rates and prices of health services. This model also predicts total health expenditures from supply and demand variables.

Hsiao was elected to be a member of the Institute of Medicine, US National Academy of Science. He was also elected to be a Board member of the National Academy of Social Insurance and Society of Actuaries.

He has published more than 180 papers and several books and served on several editorial boards of professional journals. Hsiao served as an advisor to three US presidents, the US Congress, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, World Health Organization, and International Labor Organization. He is a recipient of honorary professorships from several leading Chinese universities and several awards from his profession.

Research Interests: a simulation model of the US health sector; payment systems for physicians and hospitals; comparative health care systems; financing health care in developing nations; interaction between economic development and health care

Selected Publications


  • A Guide to Technical Standards and Measurements for Cable Television Systems (1976)
  • Managing Reimbursement in the 90’s: The Original Physician’s Reference to the Resource-based Relative Value Scale (1990)
  • What macroeconomists should know about health care policy (2000)
  • Getting Health Reform Right: A Guide to Improving Performance and Equity (2003)
  • Social health insurance for developing nations (2007)

Recent Articles and Chapters

  • Yip, WCM, Hsiao, WC, Chen W, Hu S, Ma J, and Maynard A. “Early appraisal of China’s huge and complex health-care reform.” The Lancet, 2012. 
  • Hsiao, William C. “Correcting Past Health Policy Mistakes” in Elizabeth Perry (editor) Growing Pains in China, Daedalus, 143:2, February, 2014. 
  • Yip, WCM, and Hsiao, William, “Harnessing the Privatization of China’s Fragmented Healthcare Delivery,” Lancet, 2014. 
  • Blumenthal, D, and Hsiao, William, “Chinese health system reforms” NEJM April 2, 2015. 
  • Roberts, Marc, Hsiao, William, William, Reich, Michael “Pyramid,” Health Systems and Reform, Feb. 2015.