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In the Know: Mayes College Students "Already Know More About the ACA Than Most Docs"

By Lauren Whetzel-Siburkis


Politicians are not the only individuals making waves regarding the hotly debated and contested Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. A handful of graduate students in the Department of Health Policy and Public Health spent the fall semester learning and analyzing the healthcare law as it evolved in real time.

This was the result of a Mayes College of Healthcare Business and Policy seminar course devoted to the Affordable Care Act. The course was positioned to take full advantage of the October 1 implementation date for open enrollment in the health insurance marketplace.

“The timing of this course provided health policy and public health students a unique opportunity to observe and assess real-life policy as it unfolded,” said STEPHEN METRAUX, PhD, interim director of the health policy program and instructor of the course. “Students learned not just the policy but also the process of the law.”

The course included three major components: Students spent the first month of the course studying the basics of the law. After October 1, news accounts became a textbook, as a steady stream of headlines provided ample material for assessing both the law and the heated rhetoric around the law. Finally, a set of guest speakers provided in-depth presentations related to specific aspects of the Affordable Care Act.

quoteGuest speakers during the fall semester included USciences faculty, as well as experts from the community, including former Philadelphia health commissioner Dr. Walter Tsou; alumna SUSAN CUSACK PhD’12, chief operating officer of Mercy Philadelphia Hospital; and a trio of physicians from Thomas Jefferson University.

“The journey of this class has been a wild and unpredictable ride for the students because we’ve watched history unwind and witnessed the many road blocks proponents of the law have faced,” said Dr. Metraux. “From the shutdown of the federal government to the rocky rollout of, to the President’s ‘keep your plan’ promise—it all was grist for the class.”

The students enrolled in the fall course ranged from young adults in the master’s of public health program, who are fresh out of their undergraduate programs, to a retired physician with more than 30 years of experience in the healthcare field. The diversity in the classroom provided different viewpoints regarding the stages of the Affordable Care Act.

For health policy doctoral student MARGIE FORTINO PhD’14, who has more than 30 years of experience as a registered nurse, this course allowed her to interpret the healthcare system from a nonclinical perspective. For instance, because several of the students in the class were from other countries, she said they were able to share their experiences with the healthcare systems in their native lands.

“The real-life insights shared among the students in the class helped us set aside our political opinions to realize the delivery of healthcare has its problems all over the world, and the United State is no different,” said Fortino.

Dr. TOM GODFREY PhD’20, a retired emergency-room physician who is pursuing his doctorate in health policy, took the class so he would be more prepared to talk about healthcare reform when he starts a teaching position at Penn State’s College of Medicine.

Both Dr. Godfrey and Fortino agree the Affordable Care Act is the biggest health policy issue they are likely to face in their lifetimes. They said learning the law as it unfolded across the country kept them more intrigued and focused in class because their schoolwork was based on current news surrounding the issue.

“The Affordable Care Act is very complex and has many bells and whistles…it’s not a push-to-start type of issue,” said Dr. Godfrey. “It’ll be interesting to continue following this issue as it evolves into its next phases.”

While the fall semester is over, student examination of the Affordable Care Act will continue because the course is being offered again this spring. A fresh crop of headlines surrounding the start of healthcare coverage under the law will inevitably keep a new set of students engaged with what Dr. Metraux calls “health policy at its most dramatic stage.”

Categories: The Bulletin, Faculty, Students, Academics, Mayes College, Department of Health Policy, Health Policy, Public Health