Caitlin McMurtry is a fourth-year PhD candidate in Health Policy at Harvard University, focusing on Political Analysis. Her research examines the ways in which policies and politics affect health behaviors, outcomes, and disparities in the U.S. In particular, her dissertation analyzes the impact of state-level changes in firearm policy, the effect of political advertising on election outcomes, and public perceptions of drug policy.

This fall, Caitlin serves as a teaching fellow to Professors Dan Levy and Theodore Svoronos at the Harvard Kennedy School in their class, API 201: Quantiative Analysis and Empirical Methods. She also serves as the teaching assistant to former Governor Peter Shumlin (D-VT) in his class at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, HPM 225: Health Policy and Leadership. Throughout the year, Caitlin works as a Research Fellow at the Harvard Opinion Research Program, where she designs and analyzes public opinion polls on health and social policies for Politico, NPR, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Her work is supported by an Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality training grant (2018-2020). 


BA, Carleton College (Sociology & Anthropology), 2009
SM, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (Health Policy & Management), 2015
PhD, Harvard University (Health Policy, Political Analysis), expected 2021

Recent Publications

RJ Blendon, JM Benson, and CL McMurtry. 5/2019. “The Public's Views on the Upcoming Health Care Cost Debate.” New England Journal of Medicine, 380, Pp. 2487-2492. Publisher's VersionAbstract

U.S. health care costs — and not merely prescription-drug prices — have risen to the top of the national agenda. More than two thirds (69%) of the U.S. public has said that reducing these costs should be a top priority for President Donald Trump and Congress in 2019, ranking it behind only strengthening the economy (70%) on a list of 18 possible priorities (Pew, 2019). Given a list of 13 possible health-specific priorities, about 9 in 10 Americans said both prescription-drug prices (92%) and lowering the overall cost of health care (88%) were extremely important (Politico–HSPH, December 2018). In addition, when asked how much of a problem each of 18 domestic issues was, respondents ranked affordability of health care first, with 70% saying it was “a very big problem” (Pew, September–October 2018). We reviewed 14 national public opinion polls from 2018 and 2019 to elucidate the public’s perspective on health care costs and possible solutions.

RJ Blendon, CL McMurtry, JM Benson, and JM Sayde. 2/2017. “Consumers' Experiences with and Attitudes about Their Health Care.” In Advances in Business and Management. Vol. 11. New York: Nova Science Publishers.Abstract
This chapter uses results from a 2015 National Public Radio/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation/Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health survey of 8038 US adults nationwide and in seven selected states to illuminate the self-reported experiences of health care consumers. Despite major shifts in the American health care system over the past two years, most US residents report that the health care they personally receive has remained about the same. In terms of health care costs, most view these as reasonable, but getting less affordable over time. Most say health care costs are a major problem in their state and more than half believe state costs have increased in the past two years. Adults in the US are much more positive in their assessment of the health care they personally receive as patients than they are about their state's or the nation's health care system. Although a majority of US consumers believe their health care costs are reasonable, this varies substantially by facility. Emergency room visits are perceived to be the most unreasonable, while those who use mini-clinics are much more likely to say their health care costs are reasonable, even though overall use is low. For many Americans, rising health care costs have major financial consequences. More than one in four adults in the US say health care costs have caused serious financial problems for them or their family in the past two years. Among those who say they have experienced serious problems, more than 40 percent say they have spent all or most of their personal savings on large medical bills. More than 40 percent of patients rate four out of six aspects of their most recent visit to a doctor as excellent, and more than three quarters of patients say the cost of their last visit was reasonable. Overnight hospitalization performs best among all surveyed health care settings when it comes to perceived quality, but ranks second-to-last when it comes to the reasonableness of health care costs.
BD Sommers, CL McMurtry, RJ Blendon, JM Benson, and JM Sayde. 3/2017. “Beyond Health Insurance: Remaining Disparities in U.S. Health Care in the Post-ACA Era.” Milbank Quarterly, 95, 1, Pp. 43-69. Publisher's VersionAbstract
  • In a national survey of approximately 8,000 adults in 2015, we found large income‐ and race‐based disparities in perceived health care quality, affordability, and use of emergency departments.
  • Lack of health insurance is one factor that contributes to worse health care experiences among lower‐income Americans and racial/ethnic minorities, but it only explains a small to moderate portion of these disparities.
  • While the Affordable Care Act has led to significant improvements in health care access and affordability, large gaps remain. Repeal of the law would undo much of this progress, but even if the law remains in effect, policymakers need to address other social determinants that contribute to ongoing income‐ and race‐based disparities in health care.
JO Hero, CL McMurtry, JM Benson, and RJ Blendon. 11/2016. “Discussing Opioid Risks with Patients to Reduce Misuse and Abuse: Evidence from 2 Surveys.” Annals of Family Medicine, 14, 6, Pp. 575-577. Publisher's VersionAbstract

We used 2 population-representative surveys to evaluate the recommendation from recent clinical guidelines for prescribing opioid analgesics that physicians discuss the risk of long-term use disorders with patients. In nationally representative data we observed a 60% lower rate, after adjustment for covariates, in a self-reported saving of pills among respondents who say they talked with their physicians about the risks of prescription painkiller addiction (67% lower rate without adjustment). These findings suggest patient education efforts, as currently practiced in the United States, may have positive behavioral consequences that could lower the risks of prescription painkiller abuse. Future research should test these associations under controlled settings.