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In the Health Policy Trenches

Henry A. Waxman


Centennial Policy Scholar Series addresses pressing public health issues.

Sound research is the foundation of good public health policy. But what does it take to transform data into the effective laws, regulations and guidelines that can improve the health and save the lives of populations?

Central to the process are skilled legislators who can shepherd complex public health bills through Congress to effect meaningful change for the public’s health.

Centennial Policy Scholar Henry A. Waxman, excelled at this work during his 40 years as California’s 33rd Congressional District representative, helping to shape key public health legislation.

As part of his 2015-2016 term at the School, Waxman is hosting the Centennial Policy Scholar Seminar Series to discuss the past, present and future of major public health issues from a policy perspective. Each daylong event is organized by a faculty member and is devoted to an issue that Waxman worked on in Congress. In addition to a public seminar, Waxman participates in side events for students, faculty and community members.

“Often, people see policies only in their immediate form after implementation. They don’t realize the history behind them,” says Joshua Sharfstein, MD, associate dean for public health practice and training. “He brings such tremendous experience with health policy and is responsible for much of the progress that has been made on key issues.”

Waxman’s many legislative accomplishments included the Ryan White Care Act on HIV/AIDS, the Hatch-Waxman Act establishing generic drugs, multiple expansions of the Medicaid Program, major improvements to the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, and the Affordable Care Act.  

Health Policy and Management associate professor Colleen Barry, PhD, MPP, organized the upcoming Centennial Policy Seminar on October 21, “Closing the Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Gap Through Policy.”

An expert panel includes two Obama administration officials who work on mental health issues and authorities on mental health and addiction in the context of the criminal justice system, and caring for those with serious mental health disorders.

“Many people that have mental health and addiction diagnoses aren’t getting into treatment and, in many cases, treatment is sub-optimal,” says Barry. “There are huge policy changes happening in the context of the Affordable Care Act… It’s a real opportunity to do a better job of getting people the mental health and addiction care that they need.”

Barry says that Waxman’s seminar series offers students interested in pursuing careers in public health policy the chance to understand some of the real-world challenges in advancing health and well-being.

“It allows them to think critically about how to take the skills they’re learning—statistics, epidemiology, systems science—and apply them to pressing public health policy problems,” says Barry.

—Jackie Powder