By: Colin Reusch, Senior Advisor for Oral Health Policy at Community Catalyst and EKU master’s of public administration graduate
I entered EKU’s Master of Public Administration (MPA) program with great uncertainty about my future career path, but with the ultimate desire to improve people’s lives through public governance. At the time, fresh out of an undergraduate degree in English teaching, my interest was in education policy, but throughout the MPA program I found my interests went beyond just one field. Through both core coursework and electives, the EKU MPA program allowed me to explore different areas of policy and administration – from non-profit and city management to higher education administration. The program gave me the tools to apply the principles of sound policymaking and governance to any topic area. It also helped me determine what is possible when balancing the competing interests and environmental factors facing any government agency – local, state, or federal.
After graduating with my MPA in 2009, I followed the woman who is now my wife to Washington, DC and began applying for positions related to any and all areas of public policy. Given the recession, I was in no position to be picky. While I had no previous interest in health or dental care, I ultimately landed a job with a small non-profit oral health policy shop called the Children’s Dental Health Project. Thanks to the EKU MPA program I came into the position with an understanding of public budgeting, administrative rulemaking, organizational management, and policy analysis. This allowed me to immediately contribute to the organization’s work on health care reform.
Less than two months after being hired, President Obama signed into law the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which included numerous provisions on dental coverage and oral health that my organization had helped craft. It turned out that the ACA itself was a perfect case study in public administration. After passage of the law, the bulk of my work focused on the rules and regulations necessary to implement the law and administer newly-established programs. Out of necessity, I became an expert on both the legislation itself and the numerous regulations being written by federal health agencies. I also had the opportunity to engage directly with administration officials to help them understand how certain decisions could affect the availability and affordability of dental coverage for children and families.
In addition to my intensive work on the ACA and other health programs at the federal level, I had the opportunity to help policymakers and non-profit advocates navigate the implementation of health insurance marketplaces at the state level and served as a content matter expert with DC’s health insurance exchange. Through these advocacy efforts and public service opportunities, I witnessed the true value of public engagement in agency decision-making and saw firsthand the influence that special interest groups, like insurance companies, can have even after laws are written. Today, I am lucky enough to work for another national non-profit organization whose mission is to give a voice to consumers in the decisions that shape their health and well-being.
At every turn in my career to date, I have found my MPA education to be relevant. While I may not conduct statistical analysis on a daily basis, I do employ those skills in understanding public health and insurance data. My approach to evaluating potential policies and the outcomes of existing government programs relies heavily on the best practices I learned at EKU. Most recently, the administrative law precedents I filed away in the back of my brain have become relevant as federal officials attempt to skirt the Administrative Procedure Act in authorizing restrictions on state health programs like Medicaid.
Among the first lessons I recall from the MPA program is the Wilsonian ideal that public administration be a professional field separated from politics and which strives for the best possible approach. I also learned that such an ideal can rarely be achieved, but the EKU MPA program gave me the skills to engage in the processes of governance and policymaking that nudge decision makers toward better outcomes.