Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Thursday, April 18, 2013

Health-care reform expands patient advocacy, alum finds

Sarah Davis

Health-care reform makes "free and vigorous" advocacy around private insurance issues available to more Americans, according to a study co-authored by 2002 alum Sarah Davis.

The reform creates a national commitment to such assistance for the very first time, and it provides grants and technical support for state-run consumer assistance programs, Davis and her co-authors note. As associate director of the Center for Patient Partnerships at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Davis teaches about health advocacy and health law. She has a dual-degree in law and public policy. Her areas of interest include the emerging field of patient advocacy, teamwork in healthcare, and the responsiveness of the healthcare system to consumer experiences.

After interviewing senior consumer assistance program staff around the United States and analyzing grant documents, Davis and coauthors found that advocacy capacity had substantially increased in roughly half the states receiving federal grants, and some progress had been made virtually everywhere.

Their findings are detailed in "The Affordable Care Act's Plan For Consumer Assistance with Insurance Moves States Forward but Remains a Work in Progress" published in February in the journal Health Affairs. The article is part of a special issue on patient engagement.

Consumer advocacy programs can be underutilized because many consumers are unaware of the resource, Davis says. Most states have consumer assistance programs with staff who can answer questions about coverage, access and co-pays.

The Center for Patient Partnerships, an interdisciplinary center of the schools of Law, Medicine and Public Health, Nursing and Pharmacy, offers experiential patient advocacy education to students from those disciplines and others. The curriculum focuses on health advocacy, patient-centered care, and health systems change, offering a 12-credit certificate in consumer health advocacy. The center also infuses patients' voices into health systems reform, offering a critical link to health consumers' experiences.

A version of this article appears in the spring 2013 La Follette Notes.