Trinity College: New Master's Degree Program on Health Care Policy

What better place is there to introduce an innovative program focusing on the economic, ethical, legal and behavioral aspects of the delivery and administration of health care than the Insurance Capital of the United States?

Answer: There is no better place than Hartford. So Trinity has stepped up to the plate, introducing a graduate-level program that will draw on the College’s and city’s expertise, and it is hoped will appeal to many of the region’s stakeholders: health insurance companies, government agencies, legal organizations, health care providers and non-profit organizations.

In creating such a program – which is believed to be unique in Connecticut and possibly in the country -- Trinity is not only bringing together the disparate aspects of the nation’s costly, complex and confusing health care industry, but is addressing an issue that has grown in urgency as 45 million Americans are uninsured and another 25 million are underinsured. Those numbers, alarming as they may be, have shown no signs of shrinking and, in fact, have grown in recent years.

“By developing this program in health care policy, we are trying to provide a center for study, reflection and discussion about the legal, economic, political and ethical issues that are relevant to the delivery of health care in the United States,” said William R. Barnett, director of graduate studies and an architect of the new program.

Students who qualify will receive an M.A. in Health Care Policy, and must have completed all of the requirements for a degree in public policy, including the successful completion of 11 total credits and a master’s thesis. It’s anticipated that about 25 new students will enroll each year.

Trinity has long had a highly successful and respected public policy program, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and this will add yet another dimension. The new M.A. program will begin in earnest in September, although Adrienne Fulco, director of the Public Policy and Law Program and an expert on constitutional law, has gotten a head start. She’s currently teaching a class called “Health Care Reform: The Affordable Care Act Goes to Court.”

“Although we are officially launching the new health policy track in the fall,” said Fulco, “I decided that it was important to offer graduate students the opportunity to study the Affordable Care Act [Obamacare] during the summer term.”

That law, which passed without any Republican votes in either chamber of Congress in 2010, was challenged on constitutional grounds in several states, and was later heard by the Supreme Court. The high court is expected to issue a ruling later this month.

“What is exciting about teaching this course now is that students are studying the Supreme Court’s decision in real time,” said Fulco. During the first part of the course, the students will examine the policy rationale for reforming the U.S. health care system, analyze the law and discuss the principal criticisms. The second part of the course will home in on the Court’s opinion and its policy implications.

“Whichever way the Court decides,” Fulco said, “the ruling will have a direct impact on the presidential election and the lives of every American.”

The fact that health care touches the lives of every American is germane to the new master’s degree program. As Barnett wrote in justifying the need for this program, he noted that life expectancy rates in the U.S. lag behind rates in other developed countries and threaten to decline for the first time in more than 100 years. Chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes – all conditions that are largely preventable through social and behavioral changes – continue to increase. And health care costs per capita and as a percent of the GDP in the U.S. outstrip figures in all other countries, thereby threatening to add significantly to the nation’s public debt.

In light of those developments, a holistic approach to this country’s health care challenges is badly needed. Barnett said the new program “will not replicate other graduate programs in public health or bioethics that typically concentrate more narrowly on issues of clinical practice.”

It’s believed that an M.A. in health care policy will benefit employees and administrators of various organizations as well as individuals and groups who are interested in health care advocacy and who seek to enhance their knowledge and credentials.

“Initiating a master’s program in health care policy is a way for Trinity College to serve the educational needs of legal, insurance, regulatory, non-for-profit, and health care professionals as they seek to grapple with the challenges in this area,” said Barnett.

Among the courses that will be offered are: “Introduction to Health Care Policy;” “Leading Issues in Bioethics, Public Policy and Law;” “Economics and Regulation of Health Care;” “Environmental Science and Health;” “Law of Health Care;” “Health Care in Hartford;” “Reproductive Rights;” “Health Care after 2014;” “Gerontology: the Aging of America;” and “Neuroscience and Health.”

But that doesn’t mean that the program is set in stone. As Barnett put it, the longer the program is in existence, the more it can adapt to meet the needs of students, stakeholders and interested parties.

“As we move forward with our program in health care policy, we will continually solicit the expertise and advice of members of the relevant professions in our area to improve the discussion of health care issues for our master’s students in public policy,” said Barnett.


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