Health Care Policy

Health Care Policy

Last winter, Edward Norton, professor of health management and policy and director of the Robert Wood Johnson Scholars in Health Policy Research at U-M, spent a semester as one of the first ten fellows in the U-M Center for Healthcare Research & Transformation's new CHRT Policy Fellowship program, designed in partnership with U-M SPH. The program brings together selected U-M health researchers and state policymakers for a five-month period of collaborative learning about policymaking, health services research, and the intersection between the two. The idea, says Norton, is for each group to understand what the other does, "what we know, and also to work together on a particular project." Norton spoke to Findings about his experience:

Why did you want to be a policy fellow?

Chiefly it was the chance to learn a lot, to relearn some things, to fill in the gaps. Hopefully I know a lot about this, but I certainly don't know everything. There was a chance to learn particularly about the state, and state policy formation—that's where I learned the most.

What did the fellowship entail?

There were five fellows from U-M and five from Lansing, all of whom worked in state government as legislative aides. From February until the end of the semester, we met every other week on Fridays for a full day. Experts would come in and speak to us on everything you can think about—health policy at the state and national level, insurance, the Affordable Care Act, legal issues, the media, Medicaid, children's health, mental health, research. There was always time for a Q&A. We took a field trip to Washington and another to Lansing, where we were taken around the State House and got to meet with legislators and see their world.

What did you learn?

On the policy front, that political timing matters. Things that are topical and hot and can be pushed through for political reasons one month are a complete nonstarter another month. I knew this, but to see it in action and hear about it firsthand makes a difference. I was also reminded of the very strong role that lobbyists now play, particularly with term limits. Legislators who come to Lansing typically stay only four to six years, and that's not enough time to develop relationships with each other or a really deep knowledge of the institutions. Therefore they rely heavily on their aides, who also have a higher turnover than before, so everybody relies much more on lobbyists for information.

You're obviously a fan of the fellowship program.

It's completely unique. There's no other program that brings together people from the legislative process and academia in this way. It gives legislative aides a much better idea of the daily pressures academics face to publish and balance research with teaching and service. And it reminds academics of how important it is not only to communicate to other academics but to people in the policy world, who hopefully will end up learning from what we do. We need to keep that audience in mind and to avoid jargon, explain things clearly, and when there is nuance, explain it in a fairly straightforward way.