With the Health Insurance Marketplace enrollment deadline looming and Medicaid expansion at a crossroads in the Missouri legislature, a class at SLU LAW is giving students an opportunity to help shape healthcare policy in Missouri.
Made possible through a partnership with Missouri Health Care for All, the grassroots health law policy and advocacy class is now in its fourth semester at SLU LAW. The first of its kind, this class is a testament to how SLU LAW’s Center for Health Law Studies continues to be ahead of the curve in health law education.
“Grassroots advocacy is becoming an increasingly important part of the legislative and administrative policy debate,” said SLU LAW Professor Sidney Watson. “We wanted our students to have experience working with grassroots organizations and thinking about the role of a lawyer and a policy advisor to those kinds of groups, and particularly with consumer health grassroots organizations.”
The class features three main focuses: community education, story banking and providing legal and policy assistance for consumer advocates around Medicaid expansion. In addition, the course features a classroom component taught by Watson, Health Law and Policy Fellow Lisa D’Souza and former Health Law Practitioner-in-Residence Margaret Donnelly.
The community education portion of the class involves the students going out and giving presentations to different community groups to explain various nuances of the Affordable Care Act, the Health Insurance Marketplace and Missouri Medicaid expansion.
“The (ACA) is thousands of pages. The regulations are more thousands of pages. They are lengthy, and they are written in a way that people can’t understand them,” said 3L Srishti Miglani. “There is a lot of misinformation out there. We make our presentations extremely simple so people can understand them.”
Sue Greenberg, the executive director of St. Louis Volunteer Lawyers and Accountants for the Arts, said she received great feedback from local artists following the three information sessions the VLAA hosted featuring presentations by SLU LAW students.
“The response has been excellent,” Greenberg said. “To be able to come and in 45 minutes hear key points in a way that is presented clearly and with personality and humor really is ideal for our audience.”
The segment of the class that has turned out to be one of the most important, Watson said, is the story banking, wherein the students interview Missouri residents about their experiences using the Health Insurance Marketplace.
“We collect stories from people who have purchased insurance through the Marketplace and finally have insurance, or they had insurance in the past but are getting more affordable coverage now through the Marketplace,” Miglani said. “Also, there are people who don’t have insurance because they are not eligible for Medicaid, and they also aren’t eligible for tax credits under the ACA.”
Following the interviews, the students write short summaries and use these firsthand accounts on the Missouri Health Care for All website and in fact sheets. If the interviewees are able and willing, the class also brings them to Jefferson City to testify in front of the Missouri Legislature.
“I’ve interviewed about 13 people, and I’ve attempted to interview more than that. It has kind of given me a more firsthand picture of who needs better health coverage,” said 2L Talia Linneman. “The biggest insight for me is that there are people that aren’t just the most destitute people. They are really middle class people that are really living in constant worry because they don’t have insurance.”
Thus far, the class has interviewed 124 people and made multiple trips to Jefferson City to advocate for Medicaid expansion armed with the testimonies. Watson said they want to provide the opportunity for each student in the class to attend at least one hearing in Jefferson City and participate in a day of visiting legislators.
“It’s very much a collaborative class where the students are helping to develop the advocacy strategies and decide what kind of presentation to give,” Watson said. “They are very much involved in thinking about an advocacy strategy.”
Linneman said attending the hearings in Jefferson City was a valuable experience.
“Our leaders are dealing with many different issues and there is so much information that we really can’t expect them to already know everything about every issue,” Linneman said. “I just didn’t realize that we can really provide valuable information and valuable insight to the people that are making these decisions.”
Miglani and Linneman both called the grassroots health care policy and advocacy class their favorite class at SLU LAW and said the class has helped reaffirm their decisions to go to law school.
“I came into law school thinking that I wanted to work in drafting health policy to help the under represented and unrepresented groups,” Miglani said. “Now that I am involved in this grassroots advocacy group, I can finally see that it is possible. I can help people with my background and with my education. This class has given me all the practical experience that I had hoped for.”