Peter Harbage, a key influencer in support of health care reform under the state Capitol dome and nationwide, died last night of complications from leukemia. He was 43.
The impassioned founder of Harbage Consulting – with offices in Sacramento, Washington D.C. and New York City – received what seemed to be a successful bone marrow transplant, only to be overtaken by infection when his body began to reject the transplant, said his wife, Hilary Haycock.
Haycock said immune-system suppressing drugs left him unable to fight off infections that left his lungs badly scarred in his final days.
“He fought every step of the way -- always with a sense of humor-- but in the end his body just couldn’t take it anymore,” Haycock said.
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Haycock worked closely with her husband and plans to continue his policy work by stepping in as leader of Harbage Consulting.
For decades, Harbage specialized in advancing and explaining the finer points of health care reform. Harbage’s clients relied on his expertise to guide them through the alphabet soup of acronyms and detailed programs in the 2,000 page Affordable Care Act of 2012.
While he was an fixture in healthcare circles, in his personal life, he loved his wife’s baking, good wine and jogging. He ran with the bulls in Spain to celebrate his 40th birthday.
Harbage’s resume also includes guiding the Schwarzenegger Administration toward health care reform. Under Gov. Gray Davis, he was Assistant Secretary for Health at the California Health and Human Services Agency.
Anthony Wright, a fellow traveler in Harbage’s policy-wonkish circle, often teamed up with him for presentations to legislators, journalists and stakeholders in a shared mission to spread the gospel of health care reform.
“Peter is the unsung architect of health care reform in the United States,” said Wright, executive director of the consumer advocacy group Health Access. “For two decades, Peter has been on the front lines of the work to improve our health system, as an administrator, consultant, policy guru; as an evangelist, a thinker and a provider of social lubricant.”
Harbage’s gift of providing social lubricant has its own legacy: A special cocktail named after Harbage that bartenders at The Grange, an upscale Capital hangout, mixed up in his honor.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Peter Harbage's age. He was 43.
Call The Bee’s Cynthia H. Craft, (916) 321-1270.