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Anthony Mazzaschi Engages in Q&A with Public Health Faculty and Students

The Office of Graduate Programs at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine’s Department of Public Health Sciences featured Anthony “Tony” Mazzaschi, Chief Advocacy Officer at the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH), for its fourth virtual Emerging Public Health Topics Seminar of the fall semester. Mazzaschi spoke to students and faculty on the election results and held a Q&A session on the implications of those results on public health advocacy and policy.

“The 2020 election has been of intense interest to public health schools and programs and their faculty, staff, and students,” said Mazzaschi. “While the results have been unsatisfying to both Republicans and Democrats, the tight majorities by Democrats in the House and the GOP in the Senate will require President-elect Biden to build a centrist agenda that can gather both public and Congressional support.”

The first three seminars focused on mitigating between hurricanes and COVID-19, academic stress during the pandemic, and cultivating compassion to promote better health. 

“These fall seminar topics were carefully cultivated in order to provide students with both knowledge and skills to help navigate our unprecedented COVID-challenged semester” said David J. Lee, Ph.D., professor and interim chair of the Department of Public Health Sciences. “The 2020 election seminar was especially important since these results will shape the Nation’s response to the pandemic and the many other public health challenges we currently face.”

Q: Do you have a sense of what the priorities are going to be in the first six months of Biden’s presidency? What are your thoughts on where we need to be in regard to focusing our policy and advocacy efforts?

A: The range of issues is great, but the pandemic is top of mind for President-Elect Biden and has to be the major focus of initial activities. I think we will see Biden respect and support scientific voices across the board. He was best known in the public health community for his work on the Cancer Moonshot where he engaged the public health community, was one of the lead sponsors of the Americans with Disabilities Act and played a key role in establishing the Affordable Care Act. Part of this long history of support for science is rooted in the illnesses that have occurred in his family. In the long-term, we may see an effort to completely reshape the structure of the public health enterprise in the United States

Q: As a nation, it feels like there is a lot of polarization. There is a history of bipartisanship when funding some of the agencies that are related to public health. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) itself is just one example of an institution that has historically received bipartisan support over the years. I was wondering if you could comment on your sense of where things are at for prioritization of funding for research and funding for public health in general. This is of great interest to our students that will be graduating into a very changed market in the next year or two.

A: Excellent point. The NIH has broad bipartisan support and I think you will see that continue. There may be significant additional funding for various agencies broadly targeted to COVID-19-related activities. This may free up additional funding for non-COVID-19 research. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is in a different position in that there are likely to be proposals to restructure the United States’ pandemic response infrastructure.

Depending on what happens with the Affordable Care Act case currently before the Supreme Court, I think we could see additional resources go to the Agency for Health Care Quality and Research. We don't spend enough money studying the health system and the public health infrastructure as a science and as a research topic.

Q: What happens in a place like Florida where the governor and congress are Republican? If Biden as president mandates something for the pandemic, do they have to follow, or can they act independently?

A: Regarding who controls what, you need the consent of the governed. I don't think it's exclusively a matter of regulatory or statutory compliance.

Q: Several states have not yet expanded Medicaid, which has left million still challenged and falling in the healthcare gap. Any thoughts regarding steps that the new administration might take to address his gap?

A: I do think that if the U.S. Supreme Court upholds the Affordable Care Act and with incentives from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Policy, states could be enticed to expand Medicaid. At its core, it’s a political question. The pandemic has helped push states to join. It's one of those issues that is likely to take place in the first year of a governor’s term, rather than right before an election.

Q: How productive will Biden's COVID-19 task force be while Trump is still president. Will there be any pushback?

A: That's going to be interesting. What has traditionally happened is that Federal civil servants start cooperating with the administration early on. Sometimes it is explicit, but sometimes it is a mindreading effort. I do think in this case you will see more cooperation out of the agencies than you will out of the White House and that's where the action is going to be. At this point, the White House is going through the motions. I do think you will see the professional federal employees listen to Biden and take cues from the task force. You are likely also to see federal leaders listening to where Biden wants to go so that they're not working at cross purposes. A lot also depends on science.

Q: What is your general sense of the market for public health graduates in the middle of a pandemic?

A: This is the golden time for public health. It is now in the best economic interests of industries to promote wellness and health as much as possible. I think there is a recognition of population health being critical going forward and the key role that public health professionals have in advancing the field. I also think the environmental health community has taken a backseat in the last four years, and you are likely to see a major change in the investment strategy of the Biden administration. I also think you will also see an increased investment in global health science, which will be a major change. 

Q: What advice can you give to our graduates who are interested in going into the Washington orbit and being part of this new moment in history? I think it provides a tremendous opportunity to advance population health both in the U.S. and abroad.

A: I totally agree. Some Federal agencies have fellowship programs targeted at our graduates, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, CDC, National and Highway Traffic Safety Administration, to name a few. We believe those programs could expand under the Biden administration because he wants to be the higher education president. He wants to recruit our graduates, especially at the doctoral and graduate level, into government positions. We are expecting to see a growth in the hiring of our graduates throughout the economy.