Max Bernstein, '17

August 5, 2015
Student spends his summer delving into issues relating to the Affordable Care Act

When Max Bernstein, ’17, took his summer internship with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), he was told his main role would be to support the staff on their projects.

Little did he know that after just a couple weeks in D.C., he would be sitting in a meeting with the cabinet secretary and representatives from major national corporations discussing one of the most highly debated initiatives of the Obama Administration.

“The second week I was here I helped write a memo and sat in on a meeting with the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Sylvia Burwell, and representatives from corporations such as IBM, Apple, GE, and Hewlett Packard, hearing what they had to say about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and how it helped or hurt their companies,” Bernstein said. “It was nerve-racking but a great experience.”

The excitement continued about a month later as the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Secretary Burwell in of King v. Burwell. The ruling upheld tax subsidies available to low-and-middle-income citizens who participated in the federal health care exchange, rather than reserving those subsidies only for those participating in state-run exchanges.

“The case could go either way, so no one really had any idea of what would happen to the law after the ruling,” Bernstein said. In preparation for the ruling, he conducted research on about 16 states, from Louisiana to North Dakota, to find out if they were issuing any press briefings or statements about the upcoming case.

After the ruling, Bernstein was tasked with finding out the reaction of the governor in each of those states. “That was pretty interesting because of the upcoming election year and how some states heavily politicized the issue because their governor was a candidate (for re-election),” he said.

Working on such a polarizing and politicized issue as the ACA has allowed Bernstein to make connections between his PPEL classwork and the discussions he has in the office. “The PPEL program incorporates philosophy, which I felt was good to know but I didn’t think I’d ever get to use,” he said. “Right when I started, we were talking about the ACA, and I could see myself applying the things I learned from my philosophy-oriented classes.”

He’s also been surprised and impressed by the open culture of the office. “My office is just a couple doors down from the secretary’s,” he said. “I thought it would be a really formal office, but ever since I’ve walked in, I’ve felt comfortable approaching everyone. I’ll have the opportunity to learn from a variety of people here.”

The open environment has helped Bernstein accomplish one of his goals for the summer, building his network. “I want to build relationships here in D.C. that I can use later to pursue career goals or interests that I have,” he said. “I haven’t been here long, but I think I’m off to a good start.”