Health Care MBA Gives Students Opportunity to Improve Public Policy

Business students learn the art of convincing and influencing stakeholders for the common good.

Illustration by Adobe Stock | TATIANA

Health Care MBA Gives Students Opportunity to Improve Public Policy

Business students learn the art of convincing and influencing stakeholders for the common good.

Graduate programs in the Neeley School of Business feature tangible experiences so students can hit the business world in full stride. The preparedness focus is especially true in the 3-year-old health care MBA program. But the context is different because the medical industry is a unique hybrid of business, government and nonprofit sectors.

To illustrate the government’s role, Valerie Johnston, associate professor of professional practice in management and leadership, takes students on a weeklong trip to Washington, D.C. In her U.S. Health Policy course, a residential program taught in conjunction with the higher education consortium The Washington Campus, health care MBA students get to hear from lobbyists, congressional staffers and influential industry leaders.

The intent of the trip and the class, Johnston said, is an “understanding of who the stakeholders are and how policymaking happens in D.C.”

Public Health

After an August 2019 trip, students worked in teams of three to devise a health care policy and create a pitch on how they would get it passed. One team — Caroline Albritton ’13 MEd, Sydney Alexander and Theron Bowman — suggested giving tax credits to substance-abuse treatment centers in exchange for serving some under- and uninsured people.

The idea came from Albritton, assistant director of the TCU Counseling & Mental Health CenterIn her current role, she works with students in recovery. In the future, she hopes to own and operate a treatment facility.

Most people in the health care field agree that substance abuse, especially in terms of opioids, is a massive societal problem. Policymakers are tasked with creating scalable solutions.

To learn the nuts and bolts of policymaking, the team put together the details of how they would make it work. They identified necessary elements: the cost of not addressing the problem, the cost to start addressing it, potential funding sources and partners who could advocate for legislation.

The proposed partners needed to hold some political sway, but power was their only uniting factor. The trip to D.C. was illuminating, said Bowman, a physician-in-residence who is interested in a hospital administration role. He said that policy debates are more nuanced than the reductive ideological opposites often presented on TV. Public servants from both sides of the aisle “are talking with each other, putting policy together, making deals.”

Alexander, who plans to move from her job with an investment firm into the health care industry, agreed: “The stakeholders involved really come together.”

As far as identifying people who should hear the proposal, politicians who had supported bills for expanding treatment were an easy answer. The team also got creative, researching representatives whose home communities dealt with high rates of homelessness or substance-abuse problems.

Albritton said they might also target lawmakers “who were champions of increasing access to health care.”

Return for Taxpayers

Once they compiled the target audience list, the group mined the numbers and pulled out the most convincing statistics. The proposal, Johnston said, needed to be “more about infographics and storytelling, a little bit of data.”

The data points they chose were staggering: Costs to U.S. taxpayers because substance abusers are homeless or in jail run upward of $40 billion a year. Even reaching 10 percent of those most at risk through tax credit-funded treatment would save taxpayers at least $3.5 billion each year.

“We see those symptoms subside, and people then become fully engaged citizens in their communities.”
Caroline Albritton

“I think most of our calculations, honestly, were really conservative,” Albritton said. The savings could ripple far into the future, she added. “So instead of just treating the symptoms, we actually treat the disease. We see those symptoms subside, and people then become fully engaged citizens in their communities. And eventually, they would get return as a taxpayer.”

The team distilled this information into a 12-slide presentation. Though the proposal was a practice exercise, Bowman said the experience will help him create policy on a hospital level. “It definitely helped to show how can I apply this strategy on a smaller scale, within an organization. … Who in that department will this affect? Who has some influence in terms of alliances?”

Making a good case for a policy is important, Albritton said, but so is communicating a desire for change. Her main takeaway from the experience was something simple but effective: “I hear it all the time, but I guess I didn’t really start to believe it until the trip. Call your congressman and call your congresswoman and tell them what you think. That really does make a difference.”