This week’s alumni interview is with Tanner Aliff. He is the Healthcare Policy Program Manager at the Cicero Institute.

Tanner Aliff Interview

You’re a policy wonk  on healthcare and you are currently working on healthcare policy at the Cicero Institute. Can you tell us a little bit about your interest in healthcare and your career path? 

I was born in Seattle and raised in Colorado and Oregon. I went to undergrad for cognitive neuroscience and political science at George Fox University. And I just hit my one-year anniversary working as the Healthcare Policy Manager at the Cicero Institute in Austin, Texas.

Before my current position, I worked as a Research Fellow and Medicare Caseworker for Congressman Dr. Mark Green from Tennessee (TN-07). I helped Congressman Green fulfill his role on the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis by providing research reports describing the economic troubles Tennessee patients were experiencing when accessing care. I also helped declining rural hospitals get access to CMS relief funds to pay their health professionals.

Before Capitol Hill I worked with Providence Health as a Mental Health Observer in Newberg, Oregon where I collaborated with PsyD graduates, who made diagnoses and created treatment plans in the emergency department. I was on a trajectory to go into a career of clinical neuropsychology, but ended up pivoting to health policy when I repeatedly saw the healthcare system fail to connect Medicaid subsidized patients with substance use disorders to the care they need. When I realized the administration of healthcare was hurting patients more than their own illnesses or injuries, I knew it was healthcare policy that needed the most curing.

When it comes to specific health policy, my interests revolve around creating functioning healthcare marketplaces, creating transparency in community benefit requirements for nonprofit hospitals, promoting alternative payment options for patients’ health care (e.g., crowdfunding, direct care, or cash-based services), behavioral health, and creating programs that boost patient education on the American healthcare system.

You’ve written a lot about healthcare in outlets such as the Washington Examiner and Forbes. What are some policies you think the US could implement to lower healthcare costs?

That’s the 4.1 trillion dollar question many policy folks are mulling over right now. For me, it all comes down to correcting incentives. Specifically, incentives for patients and other private actors in the healthcare system. There have been valiant efforts made in states and federal agencies to expand price transparency, but this is just a small step in the right direction. Patients are still alienated from knowing how to meaningfully pay for their care, insurers are still raising premiums, small businesses are still paying too much for health benefits, and providers are still often going unchallenged in raising prices. The key to lowering healthcare costs revolves around placing agency back into the hands of patients and doctors. Crony special interests and restrictive government rules have expanded because many Americans have been alienated and duped into capitulating their freedom to pay for their own healthcare.

Merely disclosing pricing information to Americans isn’t going to move the needle. At this point, American patients have become too indifferent in understanding how health care is paid for. However, this education gap isn’t irreversible. Patients can be taught how to lower prices and premiums for themselves—they just need a strong incentive.

The one proposal states or the federal government could implement right now to lower healthcare prices is the Cicero Institute’s Patient’s Right to Save Reform. Essentially, by requiring all providers to disclose their cash rates, giving deductible credit for when patients find good deals, and rewarding patients who shop for care post deductible, America can create a functioning healthcare market that will place real competitive pressure on providers and insurers. Right now, providers and insurers have little incentive to lower prices and rates, but by empowering patient freedom under Patient’s Right to Save, Americans can organically lower the cost of healthcare without recklessly blowing up the current system or giving in to further government control.

How did Young Voices help you become a more well-rounded person and writer?

Young Voices taught me all thoughts deserved to be expressed, but not all thoughts deserved to be heard. To make a difference with writing, your thoughts need to move people to act. To move people, you need to know where they are at, what are their problems, who are the stakeholders, what is the cultural impulse, and how to construct a timely argument that will encourage other people to care about what you think is worth writing on.

I will always feel grateful to Young Voices because they taught me how to express my passion through writing and how to move people. There is an art form to writing and I was most certainly not a Stephen King or Tolstoy. I had to develop my writing through unrelenting practice. Young Voices gave me the opportunity and support to make sure that there was a platform when my writing finally reached a place where it was publication worthy. Essentially, they gave me the skills, opportunity, and the motivation to transform my writing.

Additionally, and somewhat most importantly, Young Voices taught me how to play the “game of writing.” Editors and media outlets have been placed under tons of scrutiny as of late. Meaning it’s imperative that whatever is submitted matches the mission of the outlet. Through Young Voices I learned how to approach editors, how to build a tempered reputation, how to nurture media related relationships, how to gather sources, and how to exceed expectations. The world is full of writers wanting to engage in ad hominem attacks and burn strawmen ‘til kingdom come. Young Voices taught me how to go beyond that and construct pieces of writing that make balanced arguments. My statements of praise mean little, just look at my continually growing body of published work. It’s all a testament to Young Voices as a program. 

Which published works or media appearances Young Voices placed for you are you most proud of? 

The “Young Voices placed” publications I am most proud of are split between a piece with the Register Guard talking about the reality of the George Floyd protests in Portland during 2020, and another piece on international physicians in the Washington Examiner.

The Register Guard piece had value because it possessed some original reporting, I did with the Portland District Attorney and the Portland Small Business Alliance. Turns out the commonly reported property damage statistic of $30 million was an inflated number that bigger outlets across the aisle used to generate partisan articles on the issue. I felt like I was able to thread the needle and argue that people living in other localities shouldn’t assume everything in their go-to outlet is gospel and there are nuances to every situation. I received positive feedback all throughout Oregon on the left and right.

The international physicians piece highlighted a Cicero Institute reform that complimented my writing on the general physician shortage taking place all over rural parts of America. It was fun to work with the Cicero Institute to produce an article that made compelling arguments that states could help alleviate their doctor shortages if they allowed veteran international physicians to skip unnecessary residency requirements if they agreed to work in underserved communities. The op-ed holds a special place in my heart because it led me to meet all the amazing folks at the Cicero Institute, who in time, would become some of my closest professional colleagues.

What’s your advice for pro-liberty young people pursuing a career in policy?

Progress is not linear.

You will succeed and fail. Few people possess, both, a crystal-clear path laid out before them, and the competence to traverse that path in accordance to their own personal timeline. For most people in policy, they don’t know the destination they want to land up in, or they don’t yet possess the skills or network to get to the destination they think they want to reach. If you are in that situation now, I can relate, but know that it’s not as existential as it seems.

Here are the five policy-career revelations that got me to where I am at and where I think I am going:

  1. When it comes to selecting a specific interest in policy, don’t be scared to put all your eggs in one basket. Because even in failure, the work you put in and skills you acquired to become an expert in one area of policy can be placed into another. Determine your interest as soon as possible, put all your eggs into the basket, and see where it takes you. You will be surprised by how many diagonal growth opportunities there are in policy. People just want to trust that you are smart and reliable.
  1. Only get a formal education if you actually plan to use it explicitly somewhere in your career. Believe it or not, superiors in the policy world are equally, if not more, skewed to be impressed by work than education. Being associated with a stellar academic institution will help you make it through the first round of interviews, but great policy work (e.g., passing laws, insightful published analyses, start-ups etc.) will get you a phone call asking if you want the job. Be entrepreneurial, you can do tons of great work before getting a grad degree.
  1. It takes a village to raise up a successful policy professional. Build-up and invest into others within your network just as much as they build up and invest into you. The moment you get placed into leadership, build up those below you. You will be surprised to see the ROI when you help others build their dream careers.
  1. Try not to say what you are against. Only say what you are for. There are too many people out there looking to tear down others. Don’t give them the opportunity to talk about your hatred for something. Only let them quote the principles you stand for.

Thanks so much to Tanner for his thoughtful answers! Stay tuned for our next alumni interview.

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