Making a Difference in Healthcare at the Federal, State and Local Level
By Christy Kennedy Rosen ‘97
Remember the video clips of heated town hall meetings regarding health care?
Constituents yelling at their elected representatives. Legislators, plagued by frustration, shouting right back. Scenes like this played out across our country as Congress debated President Barak Obama’s health care proposals.
Many citizens feel passionately about the issue of health care. After all, it affects every single individual living in the United States.
Disagreements continue to be plentiful. Finger-pointing is common place, and opinions about how to move forward on addressing high treatment costs are as varied as the flavors in a Baskin Robbins store. The one thing on which almost everyone agrees: health policy in America is one of this generation’s biggest, most complicated, issues.
Three Hastings College graduates have found a way to make a difference in our country’s domestic policy process. Andrew Goodwin ’09, Joshua Fangmeier ’07 and Dr. Jessica Meeske ’91 are employing skills they learned at Hastings College to impact health policy.
All three agree that at Hastings College they developed skills that are invaluable for navigating the political process. Honing their leadership, communication and consensus building skills has helped set them apart in a complicated environment. They seek to meet the challenge and use their actions to make a difference in health policy.
Andrew Goodwin – Leadership at the Federal Level
As his time at Hastings College came to a close, Andrew Goodwin almost ignored the email about the Barbara Jordan Health Policy Scholars Program. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, in partnership with Howard University, sponsors this invaluable summer opportunity, which, according to the Kaiser Foundation website, brings talented college seniors and recent graduates to Washington, D.C., where they are placed in congressional offices and learn about health policy issues, with a focus on issues affecting racial and ethnic minority and underserved communities.
After some encouragement from several professors, Andrew finally applied and was chosen for one of the few coveted spots.
What made Andrew, a business and communication studies major, unique from other applicants from across the country? He believes it was his ability to demonstrate that he had held leadership positions and could demonstrate his effectiveness.
He was a three-year student athlete and President of Tau Beta Alpha. Andrew belonged to the Multicultural Student Union; Lambda Pi Eta, Phi Omega chapter (the communication honorary); and the student-faculty board, Team Against Bias. In the Hastings community, he served as an AmeriCorps member at the Hastings Literacy program.
At Hastings College, Andrew was pushed to be a leader, to sharpen his critical thinking skills and to act, which is what the foundation sought: young people who wanted to make a difference through their actions.
For the Barbara Jordan Health Policy Scholars Program, Andrew worked in Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee’s (D-TX) Washington D.C. office. There he was introduced to healthcare policy issues, witnessing firsthand the congressional debate over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which was signed into law later that year.
Having this unique opportunity sparked a passion in Andrew to be engaged in health policy.
“Regardless of where you stand on your political viewpoint, health care is one area that affects every single American,” Andrew said.
Upon completion of his internship with Congresswoman Jackson Lee, Andrew entered graduate school at Kansas State University where he earned his master’s degree in communication studies. Upon graduation, Andrew like many young adults struggled with how to make himself more attractive to potential employers. He had been a full-time student and had no professional resume to show. However, he knew he always wanted to return to Washington D.C., and continue to engage in the health policy process.
Ultimately, he drew from his days at Hastings College and started sharing his examples of leadership. By again highlighting his experiences as an undergraduate, including his congressional internship, he landed a prime position as a health policy fellow at the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation in Washington, D.C.
The Kaiser Foundation is an organization producing nonpartisan policy analysis. Andrew is specifically working with the Disparities Policy Project team, which explores the current plight of black Americans living with HIV/AIDS. Andrew’s team does in-depth analysis of the disparities in health care for these individuals and releases fact sheets showing their findings. The fact sheets inform not only lawmakers, but also many other policymakers in the Executive Branch, at all levels of government and in the public and private sectors. Additionally, the fact sheets help drive an informed conversation among average citizens about how to address the inequalities that plague the U.S. health system.
Having reliable nonpartisan sources of information can be critical to having an honest debate about health policy in our country. Andrew takes great pride in the fact that the Kaiser Foundation does not advocate any particular policy. It is neither a Republican nor a Democratic entity. The foundation’s staff provides data and facts, not recommendations.
Few would disagree that health policy in America affects everyone in the U.S. That’s exactly why Andrew believes that every individual should be engaged in the debate.
Joshua Fangmeier – Clear and Concise Communication at the State Level
Joshua Fangmeier says that his time at Hastings College helped him sharpen his communication skills. Finding a way to sift through all the data and get to the crux of the matter is at the heart of Joshua’s work as Fellow at the Center for Healthcare Research and Transformation (CHRT).
As a non-profit partnership between the University of Michigan and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, CHRT conducts health system demonstration projects; produces issue papers on critical topics in health care financing, delivery and public health; and engages in direct consultation with providers, payers and relevant public health groups.
A native Nebraskan from Hebron, Joshua earned a double major in political science and history, as well as a minor in economics. During his time at Hastings College, his professors challenged him to investigate complex topics, break the research down into the most important information and then communicate in a clear and concise manner.
Like many HC students, Joshua was involved a wide array of extracurricular activities, through which he interacted with people with diverse political views. In fact, he facilitated political discourse on campus. He used his involvement as Chapter President of the College Republicans to bring every Nebraska GOP Senate candidate in the 2006 primary onto campus. He says that his goal was to get students engaged in the political dialogue versus endorsing any one particular candidate. Regardless of political affiliation, Joshua believes that every citizen has a right and obligation to engage in the political process.
Upon graduating, Joshua took a position with AmeriCorps in West Virginia. There he worked on local economic development programs designed to help meet critical community needs. Having this unique hands-on job experience solidified Joshua’s desire to help shape public policy and be a part of the political process.
Joshua then entered into the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and earned a Master of Public Policy. During his course studies, Joshua interned with the National Governors Association, focusing his work on how states will implement national healthcare reform. This sparked Joshua’s interest in health policy.
While federal healthcare policy provides broad sweeping legislation, how that legislation is put into practice varies greatly from state to state. Joshua decided he could have the biggest impact working on the state level.
Although CHRT’s work is primarily used internally and for strategy, the University of Michigan and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan are the two largest health care players in the state, and, thus, CHRT is having an impact statewide. The policies they set affect the vast majority of Michigan residents.
One recent project that Joshua worked on was developing a policy brief for midsize and large businesses to discuss the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – the same landmark legislation Andrew witnessed being put together in Washington, D.C.
“There is considerable confusion in the business community about what provisions will affect different types of firms,” Joshua explained. “Due to this confusion, CHRT and a few other organizations decided to develop a policy brief together that outlined the provisions in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and detailed how these provisions would affect firms of different characteristics.”
Being charged to provide such critical information puts Joshua under a lot of pressure, but he believes his training at Hastings College prepared him well for the challenge.
Jessica Meeske -- Local Grassroots Consensus Building
When Dr. Jessica Meeske ‘91 served as the Student Association Vice President, the Hastings College student body faced a period when the relationship between the students and some local businesses had become disconnected.
Frustrated by what they viewed as a lack of respect, all major dancing venues declined to host Hastings College Student Association dances. The Student Association leaders were faced with two options: either cancel all dances or roll up their sleeves and try to bridge the gap with local establishments to repair a damaged relationship.
Dr. Meeske was instrumental in bringing local business leaders together with student body representatives, and brokering a deal. Ultimately, the Hastings businesses gave the students a second chance because Dr. Meeske and her colleagues were able to build a consensus that was mutually beneficial.
Never in a million years did she think that she’d be using those same consensus-building skills as a pediatric dentist. However, as she began to treat patients, she realized “that you can’t have an impact on eradicating dental disease by drilling and filling one patient at a time.”
“You have to work farther upstream to prevent disease before it occurs,” Dr. Meeske said. “Good preventive programs and policies require public policies and guidelines that all health care providers and the public can access.”
Ultimately, Dr. Meeske started putting her consensus-building prowess to work for the children of Nebraska.
One successful example of her work occurred several years ago. Medical insurance companies were denying medical claims made for young or disabled children who needed to be moved to an operating room for dental treatments.
“These are children who can’t tolerate treatment in an office setting,” Dr. Meeske said.
By building a consensus with legislators, Dr. Meeske helped create a law that prohibited insurance companies from denying payment for these vulnerable patients. This is one story of grassroots success. However, there are many more problems in our health system to be addressed.
During her tenure as a dental professional at the Pediatric Dental Specialists of Greater Nebraska, Dr. Meeske has seen the cost of taking care of families rise. She believes that many of the diseases that are sapping the country’s bank account are preventable.
For example, many children are covered by Medicaid, the insurance program that covers children from families with low incomes. Very few dentists will see Medicaid patients because there is a lower reimbursement rate, thus creating an access to care problem.
Dr. Meeske has taken action to address some of the access to care problems that she has encountered in her own practice by taking clear action. The first step is to know one’s local, state and federal representatives. Start small and make relationships. In order to build a consensus, one should know who he or she is working with and what ultimately motivates them to take action.
In addition to knowing lawmakers, Dr. Meeske also works with the Nebraska Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. By partnering with these larger associations, Dr. Meeske makes her voice louder in a very noisy room. Lawmakers are inundated with constituents who have complaints or problems. As one individual it can sometimes be hard to be heard. By joining with other like-minded professionals one’s message can break through the clutter. However, Dr. Meeske does warn that there are times that she disagrees with the association’s stance, and she believes it is her obligation to stand out and object. While there is strength in numbers, people must remain true to themselves and their belief systems.
With health policy issues, there is no quick and easy fix. Change takes time, careful consideration, novel approaches and consensus-building such as those Dr. Meeske exhibits while fighting for the under-served children of Nebraska.
Take Action – Make a Difference
Health policy in America may remain one of this country’s most pressing issues. Addressing this issue will take innovative leadership, an ability to communicate viable solutions to the general public and unparalleled consensus building.
Cynics would say the problem is too big to solve.
Those cynics need look no further than these Hastings College graduates. They are actively engaged in the health policy debate, and they care about making a positive difference for our country.