Immersing Myself in the Intricacies of Public Healthcare

This is part of series of posts by recipients of the 2019 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they spent their summer. You can read the entire series here.

This entry is by Varshini Gali, COL ’20

This summer, I traveled to New York City to pursue my interests in healthcare advocacy and nonprofit work as an intern with the Medicare Rights Center. I was able to take advantage of this opportunity due to a summer funding award from Penn’s Career Services, and I am incredibly grateful to have had the chance to work in a sector otherwise inaccessible to me without external funding. MRC is a national nonprofit organization that provides counseling to Medicare beneficiaries around the country and participates in political advocacy to increase beneficiaries’ access to healthcare. Interning at MRC gave me the chance to immerse myself in the intricacies of public healthcare and insurance in America, a field I had not held much familiarity with and sought to explore further.

One of MRC’s main initiatives is the National Medicare Helpline, a telephone hotline that operates every weekday and serves almost 100 people per day. As an intern, a large part of my job was to staff the helpline, which required developing an intimate knowledge of how Medicare operates as well as common obstacles beneficiaries come across when navigating the program.  After a week-long training module, I began taking calls from beneficiaries and counseling them on how to resolve their issues with the Medicare system. As I hope to become a physician in the future, having the chance to cultivate my skills in communicating complex topics was a valuable experience for my professional and personal development. Many of the individuals I spoke to on the phone were stressed or confused; I learned a lot about effective communication methods as I helped people work through their concerns. Furthermore, I certainly achieved my goal of building expertise in the field of health insurance, as I encountered a diverse array of situations and loopholes in the Medicare system.

The other main part of my internship was case management for low-income Medicare beneficiaries. When I began my internship, I came to know about the Medicare Savings Program (MSP), a benefits program from the government that cuts Medicare premium costs for low-income individuals. Despite the profound benefit that MSP membership can provide someone—savings of at least $135 a month—the program is still relatively unknown among the low-income population. My task was to help individuals fill out applications and assist MRC case counselors process these applications. Working on a project that had such a direct impact for individuals was very gratifying and truly made me understand the importance of public health messaging and how it influences livelihoods—there are still thousands of individuals around the country eligible for MSP but are not enrolled due to poor outreach. I hope to work with medically underserved populations in the future, and my work with MSP cases this summer has been very relevant for this aspiration.

Living and working in New York City was truly a privilege, and my time with MRC was very enriching for my professional aspirations. After working so closely with individuals so deeply affected by the convolutions of healthcare, my desire to enter this sector was doubly reinforced. I look forward to taking the lessons I learned at MRC with me into my future career.

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