(2) Advocacy in Action: Championing Health Equity at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS)

Throughout my time at Brandeis, one of the biggest lessons I have learned and am continuing to learn is what it means to be an advocate. Advocacy can be defined in many different ways, but in general, it involves taking action to create change. As a university that prides itself on its mission of social justice, I hear a lot of words akin to the theme of advocacy (such as diversity, inclusion, and equity) discussed in my classes and my roles on campus. I have learned what it means to look at institutions introspectively to see just where they have fallen short of achieving these tenets of advocacy.

However, I have also learned that successful advocacy goes beyond this step of simply identifying these weaknesses and flaws in our systems; it involves pushing for them to change or be uprooted entirely. Medicare and Medicaid as institutions are not exempt from these flaws and weaknesses, and as an intern it is pivotal for me to champion for health equity and challenge existing structures within CMS.

Consumer Diary: It's Medicare enrollment time — what you need to know | Business | journalinquirer.comAll of my roles at Brandeis involve a personal learning curve for me to see exactly how I can use my voice to champion for these very changes. For instance, as a Head Residential Assistant, I constantly reference concepts of cultural humility in order to foster inclusive living environments and to plan culturally competent events for residents. I then take what I have learned at the Department of Community Living to my role as the president of South Asian Students Association (SASA), where I also push for inclusive programming in order to encourage diversity and accessibility in the events that SASA holds. With each position I hold, I become more capable of advocating for sustainable and intentional change because I am applying the concepts of advocacy I learn from one role to another.

Now, I can see myself applying the same themes of advocacy that I have learned in other roles (particularly surrounding health inequities) to my internship with the Division of New Technology! For example, I find myself critiquing policies that do not allow for coverage of nearly enough patients and pushing for new and improved technologies to be available to patients under Medicare. I question outdated standards of care and encourage optimal coverage for beneficiaries to allow all people fair and equitable access to healthcare. When I submit reviews on technologies to be approved and work to ensure patients have access to technologies that will afford them better health outcomes, I can see that my approaches to my work are shaped by my time at Brandeis, whether it is by my Health: Science, Society, and Policy program coursework or my leadership positions in which I advocate for change! 

Especially after this past year, as a woman of color who has watched COVID-19 predominantly impact and kill marginalized communities both domestically and internationally, I feel an urgency to tangibly contribute to the dismantling of health inequities. Thus, my approach to advocacy within my internship has involved directly questioning and calling out inequities in the structures of Medicare in order to encourage structural change. I work to channel the frustrations I have in the disparities present in our health structures (which have only been highlighted by COVID-19) towards critical change which addresses the root causes of disparities so that I can actually take my advocacy beyond the walls of Brandeis and push for intentional change on a larger scale.

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