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Columbia Spectator Staff

As health care debate rages on the floors of Washington, policy discussion is also unfolding in Columbia's classrooms. Health care reform is central to courses offered at the Mailman School of Public Health, as well as the University's first public health course catering to undergraduates. Michael Sparer, Department Chair of Health Policy and Management at the Mailman School of Public Health, teaches a class required for all Mailman students called "Issues and Approaches in Health Policy and Management." According to Sparer, while health care reform has recently emerged as a prominent issue, the topic has always been a cornerstone of his curriculum. "Every year, part of my curriculum includes the debate over health reform—debate over the uninsured, discussion of the high cost of health care, programs like Medicare and Medicaid," Sparer said. "Certainly in my class, it's not something new in the curriculum, although the fact that there's so much going on in health care reform right now ensures it's something that we cover." As opposed to past years, though, current coverage of the health care debate in the media has allowed students to apply health policy concepts learned in the classroom to a real world environment, Sparer said. "I think the fact that the students in my class read the newspapers and watch television helps them keep up with this stuff and makes it much easier for them to immediately translate what we're talking about to what they're reading and hearing about in the broader environment," Sparer explained. Due to the potentially far-reaching implications of health care reform, even courses not aimed directly at addressing the debate are invariably affected by the questions raised by it, said Heather Butts, professor of health policy and management at Mailman. Butts' course, "Healthcare Ethics: Development and Management of Public Policy," examines historical cases involving health care ethics from a "public health, legal, and ethical perspective." "It's almost impossible to do a health care course that doesn't look at upcoming regulations and legislation that's pending," Butts said. "We look at these cases from their ethical perspective, but we also look at them through a modern-day manage point and consider how what's being proposed in Washington now either would have affected past cases or could affect modern-day cases." Through collaboration between Columbia College and Mailman, undergraduates have also gained exposure to health care studies through Columbia's first public health course for undergraduates. The course, "Social History of American Public Health", is taught by David Rosner, the Ronald H. Lauterstein Professor of Sociomedical Sciences and the co-director of the Center for the History and Ethics of Public Health. As "a broad survey of thought about health and disease in America," the course allows a perspective on health care through a historical lens, Rosner said. "An issue that has been important historically is who 'deserves' care, which is the heart of our arguments over whether we should provide care to everyone and whether we should be providing universal access," Rosner said. "That's been a question that has been at the core of our history since day one. These are all issues that have a long history and that have become themes of our class." The courses foster discussion and serve as a vital source of information, providing students with the means to form opinions about the future of the health care system, Butts explained. "It's a very personal thing. Everybody, at one point in their life, and for some people, at several points in their lives, will have intimate interactions with the medical field whether it's as a patient, a sibling, or a parent," Butts said. "So as people start to formulate their views about health care in this country and what they believe in, the more information they get, the better. The more courses the students take in health care at the undergraduate level, the more they will start thinking about the debate in a very rigorous manner."

Health Care Mailman School of Public Health