A Front Row Seat for Health Care Reform

During her summer internship in U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy’s office, Megan Stacy MPP’10 had a role in the contentious, ongoing process of reforming the nation’s health care system. Before his death on Aug. 25, Kennedy served on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP), which drafted one of the Senate versions of the reform bill. The bipartisan committee also included both N.C. senators, Kay Hagen and Richard Burr.

Megan Stacy MPP’10Stacy’s primary task was preparing briefing binders that included “every health insurance statistic imaginable,” she said, which were referred to during the bill-drafting stage. Stacy also attended staff mark-up meetings, when senators argued for changes to the proposed bill. The bill was a major part of the legislation debated by the full Senate.

“Being one of the last interns to work for Ted Kennedy on this issue was very special,” she said.

Stacy also met with advocacy groups, such as disability activists, AIDS groups, and parents of children with cancer. She was impressed with “how genuine they were,” and how committed to seeing that their issue did not slip through the cracks. Each group was able to use the legislative process to influence change. Her work also required her to attend briefings on the Hill on issues such as preventing Medicare fraud, and write up notes afterwards.

“My biggest asset was being able to write quickly and cogently on the issues,” said Stacy. “I was writing constantly.” Her course work at Sanford, such as the 48-hour memo assignments, gave her a good foundation, she said.  

Before coming to Sanford, Stacy earned a master’s degree in sociology from Stanford University, where she studied social stratification and inequality.

“Once I learned about how these problems are perpetuated, I wanted to know what to do about them,” she said. “That’s what drew me to public policy. Her interest in health policy also has a personal basis, as she has cystic fibrosis.  She’s been dealing with the medical establishment all her life and has a patient’s point of view on the problems and barriers to care.

Stacy had been to Washington, D.C., before, as an intern with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Fundraising Committee and as a research assistant to journalist Ron Brownstein. She kept in touch with her boss from the committee, who began working with Kennedy as a fundraiser. During the annual Sanford School trip to Washington last January, Stacy landed the internship.

The night the bill passed out of committee, Stacy was there. “We had expected a really late night and that the Republicans would keep offering amendments. Then they just said, ‘We’re done.’ It was a huge adrenaline rush.”

When the statement was read releasing the bill, all the staffers who had worked on the bill were wearing blue “Ted Strong” bracelets, modeled on the Lance Armstrong bracelets in support of cancer research.  “It was an incredible day,” she said.

But as is often the case in politics, exhilaration has been followed by disappointment. In late January, after Republican Scott Brown won the special election for Ted Kennedy’s seat, the momentum for passage of the bill stalled. Stacy finds it frustrating even though she understands some of causes on both the political and policy sides of the issue.

“At the end of the day, the bill offered important protections and peace of mind to people with pre-existing conditions, like me,” she said.  “It's much more than politics for me, so the impasse is disheartening.”