July 9, 2014

Policymaking from the Lobby to the Body

by Katie Rose Lamb

Katie Rose Lamb '16 is a Policy Intern for the Rhode Island Health Center Association through the iProv Summer Internship Program

In my first weeks working as a Policy Intern for the Rhode Island Health Center Association (RIHCA), I spent many afternoons at the State House, pacing back and forth from the House to the Senate and shaking hands along the way.

I learned very quickly that being a lobbyist often means quite literally standing in the lobby, waiting for someone who might have a minute to talk or listening for whispers about what programs will be funded in this year’s budget. 

More importantly, I learned that the site of health policymaking can sometimes feel like a high school cafeteria. Political and social dynamics that exist within our State House and our society are key players in the creation of health policy, and all kinds of power have an immense influence on health outcomes.

Inequities in health outcomes show up as staggering statistics that reveal discrepancies across lines of race and ethnicity, socioeconomic status, age and gender. But the results of these inequities also show up in the mouths and bodies of Rhode Island’s health center patients. My job at RIHCA has been to support the work of the community health centers, which provide a safety net for Rhode Islanders who may not otherwise have the means to access healthcare or the power to take control of their own health and well-being.

As a policy intern, I have researched the civil rights of healthcare, created a slideshow on strategies for integrating medical and dental care, and helped to draft testimony explaining RIHCA’s stance on proposed regulations that could make it more difficult for providers to practice in a health center setting. My day-to-day tasks have ranged from attending meetings on statewide health reform to inviting legislators to visit the Molar Express — a mobile dental clinic we parked in front of the State House one afternoon as show-and-tell.

According to the World Health Organization, health is a “state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” I think the wide range of tasks I have worked on during my time at RIHCA is representative of the holistic way that this organization aims to support the health centers and the physical, behavioral and oral health of Rhode Islanders.

In 2013, Rhode Island’s health centers provided dental care to over 50,000 adults and children, compared to fewer than 10,000 in 2003, and in total, there are an estimated 87,000 new Medicaid beneficiaries across the state. I feel lucky to have learned so much about this work at a time when our state is seeing substantial and exciting changes as a result of the Affordable Care Act and Rhode Island’s expansion of Medicaid.

Most of all, I am lucky to have learned so much from the city of Providence and from my supervisor Rebecca Kislak, who has taught me that not only the kings and queens of the cafeteria have the power to affect social change — it’s passion for what we do that makes us powerful. 

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