As an expert on America’s complex health care system, Dean Rosen G’90, L’90 says health care became his focus by accident, but has endured because of his work’s important interplay and intersection with policy and people’s lives.
“Health care has been such an interesting career focus,” he says, “because it makes up one- fifth of our economy; because, at the federal level, it is the most heavily regulated portion of the economy, and because the government is a major payer for health care services.” The federal government, in his view, is more important to health care stakeholders than to almost any other constituent because of the unique nature of the sector—government programs impose detailed rules and regulations and set rates and reimbursement parameters and protocols.
Rosen played a leading role in developing and advancing health policy through influential posts on Capitol Hill for 15 years. On the Hill, he divided his time between traditional labor issues, law reform issues, and health care, which, he says, were the “Super Bowl of legislation” in the early ’90s. His efforts helped to create the Medicare Prescription Drug Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003 and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), among others.
Rosen says that lobbying and policy are a very “hands-on, personal services business” where one’s background is a driving force for success. Thus, his own experience and credibility on the Hill and his knowledge helped him grow the then Mehlman Consulting lobbying firm from a dozen clients to now approaching 150, half of whom are in the health care field.
What was your path to get where you are? Did you see yourself in this role or field while in law school?
Initially, my interest was in a law career that embraced communications, which is why I did the dual degree with Newhouse. I was flexible on what that would be.
I loved the study of law, but I found the practice of it in a big firm setting not enjoyable. After a couple years working in the law firm setting, I volunteered on political campaigns and eventually took a leave of absence to work on Capitol Hill. That time really underscored for me that I wanted to have a career in government and politics, and not at a law firm.
In 1993, I was hired by my home state senator from Minnesota, David Durenberger, a health care expert. Bill Clinton had just been elected president, and his highest priority was comprehensive health reform. Senator Durenberger served on two key committees in the Senate that dealt with health care, and I was hired because of my legal background and the work I’d done as an employment lawyer. When it was clear that the Clintons were going to really push on health care, Durenberger deployed all of us on his staff to work on the issue. I had to learn the issues really quickly, and I rapidly developed a deep interest in them.
So, health care was really by accident. After spending years working in various positions on Capitol Hill as a senior staff person for various committees that dealt with health care, policy issues, and Congressional leadership, I joined the firm Mehlman Consulting, which was at that time a five- or six-person lobbying firm. We’ve now grown to about 20 full-time lobbyists. We’re one of the biggest government relations firms in D.C. and have been ranked in the top 10 for the last couple years.
Now day-to-day, I use a lot of the skills and the strategic insights that I gained from working in government to help clients navigate through a number of issues, whether it be trying to pass or stop legislation, helping to shape regulations, or helping clients understand what’s going on in Washington, and how that may impact their strategic goals and business.
How did law school prepare you for your current role?
I have a nontraditional career. I’m a lawyer in the sense that I keep my bar license and use my legal training, but I really don’t practice law. I work as a lobbyist, but just as I did on Capitol Hill, I utilize the skills I learned at Syracuse Law. My clients are trying to figure out, every day, how they can comply with the law, and how they can change laws. I apply what I learned from my coursework in administrative and regulatory law specifically, as well as more broadly what I gained in legal reasoning and interpretation skills. Beyond that, law school gave me the ability to look critically at an issue, to analyze a document, to think creatively about how to solve problems. I use that every day, whether I’m drafting a piece of legislation or analyzing a regulation.
Is there a professor or mentor during your time at the College of Law that stands out? Professor Theodore Hagelin, who led the Technology Commercialization Law Program, (ILC), really cared about and understood the intersection between law and the technology sector. He was also my Law Review note advisor. My Law Review note was about a Federal.
Communications Commission regulation that I felt needed to be reexamined given the evolution of technology. Because it was a complex issue, I don’t think I would have been able to write it without somebody like Hagelin who understood and had the passion in this area. Also, Professor Travis H.D. Lewin, who led the moot court program, stands out. He had a way of making law fun, and he was passionate about his students. Public speaking is a big part of what I do now, and he helped me gain the confidence I need to advocate for issues in front of small and large audiences.
In light of the pandemic, what innovation has most affected your industry?
The rapid development of vaccines is the most significant. I think the fastest development of a vaccine before COVID-19 was five years, and the COVID-19 vaccine was developed within a year. Additionally, while doctors and nurses had begun using telehealth, the pandemic accelerated the use and acceptance of telehealth as a health care delivery method because of necessity. I personally worked on that front, in order to help providers secure the waivers and greater flexibility they needed for telehealth. There are strict government restrictions inplace, with Medicare in particular, around how seniors can get care. These restrictions have been waived during the pandemic. I think that new modality may be one of the biggest changes in our health care system brought on by the pandemic. We have such a shortage of providers, especially in mental health, I believe this in an area where telehealth is going to expand and change how we deliver much needed care to patients moving forward.
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