Sixteen undergraduate students were given an exciting opportunity this spring during La Follette’s Workshop in Health Policy when they were able to research and propose recommendations for policy questions crafted by Wisconsin state legislators.
Taught for the first time by La Follette’s director, Susan Webb Yackee, the spring semester’s PA 274 course placed students into three teams to investigate Wisconsin-specific questions related to Medicaid reimbursement rates for dental services, the scope of practice for Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRN), and extending dental services to low-income populations by allowing non-dentists to provide greater services.
Perhaps most uniquely, the students had the opportunity to address questions that came directly from state legislators. Rep. Clint Moses, who chairs the Committee on Health, Aging and Long-Term Care, designed the question on Medicaid reimbursement for dental services. Sen. Rachel Cabral-Guevara, chair of the Senate Health Committee, crafted the research question on APRNs, and Rep. Lisa Subeck, the ranking member of the Committee on Health, Aging and Long-Term Care, inquired about using non-dentists for dental care for low-income populations.
The teams then researched what other states have done regarding these topics and produced high-level, thoughtful reports detailing their findings and recommendations. “A main goal of the reports is to generate a useful, objective, and easy-to-understand piece of original research that answers the health policy-related question of the client,” according to Yackee. “While the projects should not be considered definitive, our hope is that they do advance knowledge and understanding around these topics. It’s even possible that these reports could get used in the future as legislators craft policy.”
In addition to getting to research these important topics at the behest of lawmakers, the PA 274 students were also able to interact with the legislators’ offices multiple times through the project as they refined the research questions and drafted the reports. The projects culminated in May at the State Capitol, when the students gave 15-minute presentations to staff from the chairs and ranking members of participating committees, along with additional staff from each committee.
The presentations were followed by Q&A sessions where the legislative staff asked follow-up questions, thanked the students for their work, and noted that they may circle back to the students if there is an opportunity to present their findings before either of the committees.
Most of the students participated in the course as part of their enrollment in the La Follette School’s certificate programs in public policy or health policy. However, the class was open to all students interested in evidence-based policymaking.
“I think this class was an excellent opportunity for students to learn how policymakers use research and evidence to shape policy,” Yackee said. “There aren’t many places where undergraduate students get to interact with legislators and rigorously address their policy questions like this.”