Q&A: Swapna Reddy, ASU College of Health Solutions

Swapna Reddy is a Clinical Assistant Professor at Arizona State University, College of Health Solutions. She is also part of the faculty at Arizona State University’s Barrett, the Honors College, and an Adjunct Assistant Professor in Health Care Administration at the Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine, AZ. 

In this interview, Swapna discusses the need for children to be a critical focus in health care in the state, and emphasizes several key initiatives she is watching for in the upcoming session.

Emily Viles: Tell me a bit about your background and the work that you do at ASU.

Swapna: Sure, I have been at Arizona State University for four years now, actually four and a half years now, oh my goodness– and we moved here from Austin shortly before I joined the team at ASU. When I say we, I mean my husband and I, we have really lived all over the United States because my husband is in medicine and for his residency and fellowship we moved all over. We have lived in Miami, and Boston, and New York, and then Austin. A really amazing opportunity for him happened here in Arizona, and then in the process I met some leadership here at ASU and it ended up being this really incredible opportunity for me as well.

Prior to ASU, I worked in corporate health care, at a law firm, in nonprofit health care and health law. I am a lawyer, so during this time I also went back to get my MPH, and also started a doctoral program in public health which I am still working on at the University of Texas at Austin.

I have had a lot of different experiences in the health care arena, and I really did not expect to move that much. All of these experiences have provided me with a lot of different lenses of health care and health policy as well. So, what I try to do with those lenses is incorporated that practical and “real world” experience with the evidence based, and research pieces to teach students about health policy, health disparities and health care system in the US. I teach at the undergraduate, graduate and at the Mayo Clinic as well.

Emily: How does your experience in academia differ from some of your other experiences previously?

Swapna: I will say that coming into academia was really sort of the first opportunity to put some of those pieces together. I am actually really thankful to have moved around so much to have all of these opportunities, I think it helped me to understand a lot of these issues from a bunch of different lenses, and different spaces. Certainly, it has helped me with my students in bringing some of these topics to life, whether it is in the classroom or in research.

Emily: Do you think that students are aware of all these different aspects of health care and the many fields that they can enter when they begin your class?

Swapna: Great question. Most of my undergraduate classes are at the 400 level, which means that they are typically seniors in college, and they come from a wide variety of health majors. I will say, the vast majority of students still look at becoming a physicians or increasingly PAs, health administration has become a focus recently as well. I do this thing in August where I ask my students how many of them are planning to apply to medical school, and it is easily over half the class. Then I ask them again in December after learning so much more about the health care system, all of the people involved in the system and all the drivers in the system, and I will say that by December, that number reduces to so much less. I think that there are so many opportunities in health care, and so many ways to impact populations that most of the students want to help people, they are interested in science and they want to find a way to marry the two.

Now, I think more and more are interested in health care administration, and health policy. And, there are not a lot of people that are trained to enter these fields.

Emily: What are the big topics that you are watching in health care and the market in general?

Swapna: So, my focus is always a bit specific, and a bit broad. Specific in that I am very focused on health policy and the law, and how this can be used as tools to improve and impact the lives of vulnerable populations. Specifically, women, children and working class families. I try to be very hawkish about this at all times.

Something that I am really passionate about and try to spend a lot of time focusing on, is really increasing and improving the quality of dialogue on health policy issues, especially as they relate to health policy. When I say dialogue, I think that all too often in academia, we are focused on peer-reviewed journals, but I think that people who are not in academia or in research are not reading those articles. So we are essentially high-fiving ourselves. Not to take away from the importance of research, research is incredibly important–but the assumption is that these articles will change the world and that is not really how it works.

I think that translating that information and then connecting with other stakeholders to convey that information to policymakers, and translating it to the public is key. I am very much focused on improving the dialogue in the market.

Emily: Is there something that you are hoping to see this upcoming legislative session?

Swapna: It is really important in Arizona to acknowledge how much growth is happening in the state, and to be responsive to that growth, and the needs of the communities that have been here for a long time, and for new communities as well. We know that Maricopa county is the fastest growing county in the United States, and that Arizona is the fastest growing state in the US as well.

We see is that our demographics and our population is changing rapidly. The views of the population are changing and evolving rapidly as well, and we need to be realistic about that. This partisan gridlock that sometimes happens at the state legislature, it does not serve the people of Arizona.

For me, legislative actions really that focus on filling the gaps in care whether it is in the Medicaid population, the Medicaid expansion population, with children, this is critical. We are not doing well by children in Arizona. Health outcomes for children are pretty dismal here. Legislation that transcends partisanship and focuses on closing the gaps, and focus on children is key. There is not a robust enough safety net for them here in Arizona.

Emily: Does there need to be a social determinants lens to these conversations about creating a better safety net for children?

Swapna: One-hundred percent, one million percent! I think that so often, Emily, as we think about policies that can improve the life of children, so much of that becomes watered down by ideological issues. We are losing sight of the lived experience of these children, the intersectionality of these children, and how these social determinants impact these children.

The vast majority of us think that children are considered a vulnerable population, that we have a greater duty towards children. We are just not able to, I think, meet those needs because we are not really willing to put aside the fact that this idea did not come from the team I support, and really think about how does poverty, environmental issues, poor education, poor transportation, living in a food desert, racism, insurance coverage impact these children. What are the outcomes of these social determinants?

We know what they are in Arizona, and they are quite bad, whether we are talking about rural or urban children. UNtil we are willing as a legislature, and a state to have honest conversations about what our duties to these children are, we are not going to improve those outcomes. I think the gap will grow between the haves and the have-nots, especially between children in the state.

Emily: Is there anything else that you would like our readers to know? What should people in Arizona be watching in health care?

Swapna: There is a lot going on at the federal level. I think all too often what happens is that there is a lot going on at the federal level that there is a bit of news fatigue. There is a lot happening in health policy and a lot in health policy that impacts all of us. In 2018, we had the first dip in insurance rates since the passage of the ACA. Whether or not you like the ACA or not, it is more important to consider why this is the trajectory we are headed in. We should be going in the opposite direction.

Keeping an eye on some of these real topics that are impacting all of us–how does this impact us as a society? Really keeping an eye on what is happening with affordable and comprehensive health insurance for all of us. You know, the ACA enrollment period is starting again on November 1st. Being honest and knowing what the actual evidence is on these issues and not being clouded by the narratives around the issue is important.

This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.