MPH Students See Health Policy at Work in Olympia
EWU students from the Master of Public Health (MPH) program traveled to the Washington state capitol on Feb. 16-17 to meet with a range of lawmakers and health policy officials who are involved in the legislative process for statewide public health policy issues. State Rep. Marcus Riccelli (D-Spokane), who teaches MPH’s Advanced Health Policy seminar course, arranged the trip, which he said was “a chance for MPH students to experience the legislative process firsthand from the inside.” Students began the seminar by participating in EWU’s lobby day where they spent a full day in small group meetings with Representatives and Senators advocating on issues important to higher education and EWU students. The second day MPH students attended a House Health Care & Wellness Committee hearing where lawmakers discussed HB 2009, the bill to eliminate the philosophical or personal objection exemption from child immunization requirements. They heard testimony from supporters and opponents of the bill, which proved one of the most controversial public health policy issues the state legislature confronted that session.
MPH students spent the majority of their time in Olympia visiting with lawmakers, health policy officials, and lobbyists. Students had the opportunity to meet directly with agency and gubernatorial staff, including Secretary of Health John Weisman. They met with important Washington health care policymakers like Rep. Eileen Cody (D-Seattle), Chair of the House Health Care & Wellness Committee, along with non-partisan and partisan health care staff, to gain insight into their roles and how they support legislators. They were briefed by the Washington Health Care Exchange and the Health Care Authority on the progress of the Affordable Care Act in Washington. They met with health care lobbyists representing a diverse range of interests—the Washington State Hospital Association, Washington State Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Children’s Alliance—to better understand their role in the legislative process. In all, students met with more than 30 different lawmakers and policy professionals in 17 meetings over their two days in Olympia.
One MPH student who attended, Jeri Rathbun, said she appreciated that Riccelli designed the trip’s activities around topics of interest selected by students in the course. She also said it was “especially neat” shadowing Riccelli in full-on legislator mode in Olympia since the students had only spent time with him in the classroom. As part of the Advanced Health Policy seminar course, the trip was meant to build upon the Health Policy class that the group took in the fall, Riccelli said, and to “help them truly engage where public policy and politics intersect and bring the process to life.”