As the Affordable Care Act marks its fifth anniversary, Berkeley has also been holding events and forums to deepen the understanding of the landmark law. One of the highlights from the Graduate Division’s Berkeley Graduate Lectures spring offerings was a lecture by former secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius. Sebelius served on President Obama’s staff from 2009-2014, where she oversaw the passage of the Affordable Care Act. The Barbara Weinstock Lectures on the Morals of Trade lecture, entitled Healthcare 2024, offered an insider perspective on the current and future state of U.S. healthcare.

Her insightful and passionate lecture summarized the government’s struggle to offer affordable health coverage. Noting the anniversary of the passage, Sebelius also provided a summary of the law’s successes.

“The marketplaces all over this country are working — in the way that they were intended to provide coverage to folks who didn’t have affordable, employer-based coverage,” Sebelius said.

She also added that there’s still a need for major strides. “We spend almost double what any other industrialized nation on earth spends on healthcare,” Sebelius pointed out. However, the U.S. has a lower life expectancy than most other developed nations and the highest obesity rate in the world. Seblius noted that the Affordable Care Act is attempting to solve these issues by offering better care to patients and helping them tackle smoking cessation.

At Berkeley, a forum that brings together policy experts, healthcare delivery systems and insurers is also working to improve patient care in California. The Berkeley Forum, which is facilitated by The School of Public Health, holds discussions and released a report called “A New Vision for California’s Healthcare System: Integrated Care with Aligned Financial Incentives” that focuses on initiatives to reduce spending.

Beth Keolanui, a second-year student in the School of Public Health, researched palliative care — pain treatment for patients with serious illnesses— at the Berkeley Forum by analyzing different hospital programs in the area. She also worked on a healthcare expenditure report by creating a model that estimated how much the system would spend in California until 2020. “The Berkeley Forum was an opportunity to dive deeply into some of the areas that we would skim over in classes,” Keolanui says. Through the Berkeley Forum, she was able to interview patients and healthcare workers about how to expand patient care. For her capstone project, she also talked to dozens of people throughout the healthcare system and analyzed practices used in patient room turnover. She hopes that her research will help improve customer service within facilities. “Because the Affordable Care Act is so new, you really have to get out there and talk to people,” she adds.

Although Keolanui was a healthcare consultant for five years prior to enrolling in the School of Public Health, she says that her education in health policy and management has offered her a birds-eye view of the industry.

“I think that I’m coming out of Berkeley with a very deep understanding of what’s going on in our healthcare system,” Keolanui says.

She adds that the small class-size and networking opportunities in the San Francisco Bay Area has allowed her to ascertain how every role affects the healthcare system. After graduation, she will be pursuing a one-year fellowship at Sutter Health where she will help simplify healthcare practices.

To learn more about the Berkeley Forum, visit the Berkeley Forum website.