Reinhardt was born 1937 in Osnabrück, Germany, and later emigrated to Canada where he received his Bachelor of Commerce degree from University of Saskatchewan. He later received a Ph.D. in economics from Yale University in 1970, with a thesis titled "An Economic Analysis of Physicians' Practices" under the supervision of Richard Ruggles. He has taught courses in economic theory and policy, accounting, and health economics and policy. Reinhardt's scholarly work has focused on economics and policy and includes more far-reaching topics such as cost-benefit analyses of the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar and the Space Shuttle. He currently is the professor of Economics 100 and Economics 332 at Princeton University.
In July 2015 Reinhardt's 2013 syllabus and first lecture for a class titled "Introductory Korean Drama" received attention from several bloggers. By way of explanation, Reinhardt introduced the class by stating
After the near‐collapse of the world’s financial system has shown that we economists really do not know how the world works, I am much too embarrassed to teach economics anymore, which I have done for many years. I will teach Modern Korean Drama instead.
Although I have never been to Korea, I have watched Korean drama on a daily basis for over six years now. Therefore I can justly consider myself an expert in that subject.
It was not clear whether Reinhardt actually intended to teach the course.
Reinhardt's research has focused on hospital pricing, systems of health care around the world, Medicare reform, and health care spending. His work has appeared in Health Affairs, The New England Journal of Medicine, JAMA, and The British Medical Journal.
In a recent paper, Reinhardt discusses the obstacles to success of consumer-directed health care in light of the lack of transparency in hospital pricing. He suggests several reforms that could lead to better information on hospital pricing for consumer decision-making, including a national set of Diagnosis-related group weights to which each hospital could then apply its own conversion factor. Reinhardt's previous work on hospitals examined the tax and cost of equity capital advantages of not-for-profit hospitals over for-profit hospitals.
Reinhardt's scholarship has analyzed the U.S. health care industry in relation to systems around the world. He has argued that higher U.S. health spending is a result of higher U.S. per capita gross domestic product (GDP) as well as intricate and disjointed payment systems. Reinhardt's work on foreign systems of health care includes a 2004 analysis of Switzerland that appeared in The Journal of the American Medical Association. In it, Reinhardt argued that there is little correlation between the prevalence of consumer choice and the high quality of Swiss health care.
In 2003, Reinhardt, along with 14 other prominent health policy experts and private health care industry leaders, signed an open letter arguing that Medicare should lead the U.S. health care industry in paying for performance by tying financial reimbursement to quality measures.
Reinhardt's work on health care spending includes his argument that the aging of the U.S. population is not the primary cause of the growth in U.S. health care spending.
In addition to his university duties, Reinhardt has been active as an advisor for government, non-profit organizations, and private industry and has held directorships in various for-profit companies in the health industry. Reinhardt served on the Governing Council of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences between 1979 and 1982, after election to the Institute in 1978. At the Institute, he has served on a number of study panels, including, the Committee on the Implications of For-Profit Medicine, the Committee on Technical Innovation in Medicine, the Committee on the Implications of a Physicians Surplus, and the Committee on the U.S. Physician Supply. In 1996, he was appointed to the Board of Health Care services of the Institute.
From 1986-1995, Reinhardt served three consecutive three-year terms as a Commissioner on the Physician Payment Review Commission (PPRC), established in 1986 by the Congress to advise it on issues related to the payment of physicians. Reinhardt serves as a Commissioner for the Kaiser Family Foundation Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured. Reinhardt was or is a member of numerous editorial boards, among them The New England Journal of Medicine, JAMA, The Journal of Health Economics, the Milbank Quarterly, and Health Affairs.
Currently, Reinhardt serves as a trustee of Duke University and the Hambrecht and Quist Investors and Life Sciences Investor Funds. He also serves on the Boards of Directors of, and has financial interests in, Boston Scientific Corporation, a leading maker of medical devices, and Amerigroup Corporation, a large health insurer whose clients consist primarily of persons enrolled in Medicare. Reinhardt has also previously served on the Board of Directors of Triad Hospitals, Inc, until that company was merged into Community Health Systems in 2007. Reinhardt is also a regular contributor to the New York Times' Economix blog where he writes about economic matters, particularly the economics of health care.
In the 2009 Frontline show "Sick in America", Reinhardt criticized the United States for spending 24% of every health care dollar on administration, and pointed out that Canada spends less than half of the U.S. amount and Taiwan spends significantly less than Canada. Reinhardt faulted the seeming U.S. preference for an unwieldy "mishmash of private insurance plans" for the inefficiency. He said if the U.S. could spend half as much on administration, it would save more than enough money to cover all the uninsured."Little hope for the uninsured." Denver Post, January 25, 2004; E4.