National health care advocacy organization Community Catalyst announced that Robert Restuccia of Jamaica Plain, its founding executive director and a trailblazing leader in the consumer-led health advocacy movement, has died at age 69, of pancreatic cancer. Restuccia’s visionary leadership, determination and pragmatism made him a central figure in a movement that has made access to health care possible for millions of people across the country.
“Our hearts are heavy today as we mourn the loss of our dear leader, mentor and friend,” said Diane Felicio, interim executive director and chief operating officer at Community Catalyst. “But knowing Rob, he would not want us to get caught up in our sorrow. He would encourage us to harness our collective energy and pour it all into the fight for health justice.”
Restuccia, along with philanthropist Kate Villers and longtime colleagues Susan Sherry and Michael Miller, built two powerful consumer advocacy organizations from the ground up. Restuccia served long tenures as executive director, first at Health Care For All Massachusetts (HCFA) from 1989 to 2003 and, for the past 18 years, at Community Catalyst.
Under Restuccia’s leadership, HCFA fostered the growth of a potent consumer-led health advocacy movement that made Massachusetts the national leader in health care access, quality and affordability.
At Community Catalyst, Restuccia took the fight to the national level, helping spur consumer-led advocacy in more than 40 states. Working closely with the philanthropic foundation community, Restuccia helped generate $40 million in support to state and local consumer organizations across the country leading the fight for health reforms at both the state and federal levels. Ultimately, this network of engaged consumers would help achieve passage of the landmark Affordable Care Act in 2010 and rally forcefully to protect it from more than 60 attempts by Congress to repeal it.
“Rob had a profound impact on me and my career. He is the true father of health reform here in Massachusetts and then applied those lessons to support health reform nationally. There are millions of people around the country who wake up every morning with the security of health coverage as a result of Rob Restuccia’s advocacy,” said Andrew Dreyfus, president and CEO, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts.
“Rob was particularly effective at helping raise the voices of consumers in the context of every important health care debate,” said Cindy Mann, partner at Manatt Health and former deputy administrator at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, who is also a longtime friend of Restuccia and a former Community Catalyst board member. “He had a great mastery of the complex world of health care policy and delivery and a keen instinct for how progress could be made at both the state and federal levels, with consumer activism providing the energy.”
During Restuccia’s 14-year tenure at HCFA, that organization led the successful fight in Massachusetts for passage of the nation’s first universal coverage law (later reversed), coverage expansions for people with disabilities, children with special needs and unemployed individuals, and the Massachusetts Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). That program would become the model for the national CHIP law, which has expanded health coverage to nearly 10 million children and families throughout the country.
“Rob brought unique skills toward organizing a forceful new political voice for people and communities falling through the cracks of the health system. He also promoted collaboration between consumers and other stakeholders – policymakers, nonprofit, labor, faith, and principled industry leaders – to make needed change,” Kate Villers, founder of both Community Catalyst and Health Care For All, reflected. “That kind of collaboration defined his leadership style, along with an amazing ability to shine a light on others around him rather than on himself.”
Restuccia was particularly proud of Community Catalyst’s growing body of work to change the U.S. health care system to be more responsive to the needs of those groups who historically have been marginalized – particularly people of color, individuals with disabilities and LGBTQ individuals. He believed engaging these communities in shaping their care was absolutely essential to transforming the system to better meet their needs.
Toward that end, in 2003 Restuccia worked with health care leader Robert Master, MD, to incubate a vision of a care delivery system for some of the most vulnerable people in the state. This early work led to the creation of the Commonwealth Care Alliance (CCA), a community-based health plan for people with complex medical, social and behavioral needs. Restuccia served on CCA’s board from its inception, including five years as board chair.
“Many Americans have unknowingly benefitted from Rob’s leadership, vision and hard work building up a consumer advocacy movement that ultimately led to not just the ACA, but also many state health reforms and consumer protections,” said Anthony Wright, executive director, Health Access California, one of the many state consumer advocacy organizations with which Restuccia and Community Catalyst partnered. “Rob had a hand in helping countless consumers benefitting from Medicaid expansion, hospital charity care, patient protections and coordinated care – not just in Massachusetts but in every corner of the country.”
Born in Boston and raised in Belmont, Massachusetts, Restuccia’s life’s work and commitment to rooting out injustice was shaped by the people he met along the way. He was awarded a scholarship to attend Harvard University and graduated in 1971. Considering a career in medicine, he moved to northern California and began a job as an orderly at a public hospital that struggled, with woefully inadequate resources, to meet the needs of its community. Seeing firsthand the hardships low-income people endured trying to get their health care needs met without health insurance convinced Restuccia to abandon his medical school plans and dedicate himself to advocacy.
While his work was central to his life, Restuccia’s biggest passion was his family and wide circle of friends. Married for 39 years, Emily Feinberg was the love of his life. Longtime residents of Jamaica Plain, together they enjoyed hiking, cross country skiing, travel and spending time with their children, Dan and his spouse Alissa, Nina and her spouse Matt, and their four grandchildren, Ava, Zoe, Jack and Ellie. In addition to his wife, children and grandchildren, Restuccia leaves behind his brother, Joseph, and sister-in-law, Nancy, and a large extended family and circle of friends.
“Rob always welcomed friends into our home and into our family,” said daughter Nina. “He loved to cook big meals, finding a way to make a dining room that seated 10 expand to fit 25. To him, family was a broader construct that meant welcoming others in. He brought that same openness to every aspect of his life – constantly bringing people together. He instilled in my brother and me a sense of responsibility and an ethical code simply by his example. But there was always an expectation that while our paths were our own to choose – whatever we did, we would make the world a better place.”
In addition to his Bachelor’s degree, Restuccia held a Master’s degree in Public Affairs from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and served as an adjunct professor at the Boston University School of Public Health. Restuccia also served on the boards of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Massachusetts, Health Care For All and the Mass Budget and Policy Center. He has been a recipient of numerous awards including the Association for Community Affiliated Plans Leadership in Advocacy Award, Families USA Health Care Advocate of the Year Award, the Massachusetts Health Council Award, Gail Douglas Award for Public Health Practice and the Boston University School of Public Health Teaching Award.
The family will welcome friends and colleagues to a celebration of Restuccia’s life on Saturday, March 9, 2019 at 10:30 AM at the First Parish Church in Brookline, Massachusetts.
On April 30, 2019, the health care community will come together at the Park Plaza in Boston to honor Restuccia at “Together For the People,” an event in support of Community Catalyst and Health Care For All. Contributions in Rob Restuccia’s memory can be made to the Restuccia Leadership Fund.