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Alumni Spotlight: David K. Jones

David K. Jones

David K. Jones, Ph.D., Health Services Organization and Policy

Before coming to the University of Michigan, David K. Jones worked in the Idaho legislature, finding himself increasingly interested in policy at the state level. When it came time to find the right place to pursue his graduate education, he knew he needed an institution where he would combine his two areas of interest- politics and health policy. That, combined with a myriad of other factors, attracted him to a U-M education. “Michigan had everything I was looking for – expert faculty, a collegial and supportive atmosphere, and great funding options.”

David is a 2014 Rackham alum with a Ph.D. in Health Services Organization and Policy. His dissertation focused on the politics of health insurance exchanges as part of the Affordable Care Act’s implementation. His research centered primarily on four Republican-led states - Michigan, Idaho, New Mexico, and Mississippi, to explore why states made the choices they did. “Partisanship is the most common explanation given for state decision-making, and indeed it is an important factor. However, in many cases, the biggest division was actually within the Republican Party rather than between Democrats and Republicans. I identified other factors shaping the debate in these states, namely special interest groups, the Tea Party, and even the way a state’s legislature is organized. For example, some states meet year-round and have term limits, whereas others meet for two months every other year and do not have term limits. Those differences had a significant effect on how states reacted to deadlines set by the Obama administration.”

Michigan had everything I was looking for – expert faculty, a collegial and supportive atmosphere, and great funding options.

He interviewed 150 leaders in the executive and legislative branches of 24 states, as well as officials at the White House and in the federal government. As a current, highly debated topic, it presented unique research challenges. “Researching a topic in real time was exciting but occasionally overwhelming. It was easy to feel behind. Overall, my research presented opportunities that Ph.D. candidates don’t normally have, including more visibility, publications and media attention. And I loved digging into specific states’ politics and programs, being in a state capital with the people leading the implementation - it was really a blast.”

David won the Outstanding Dissertation Award from AcademyHealth in 2015, and in October 2017, his work will be published by Oxford University Press as a book titled, Exchange Politics: Opposing Obamacare in Battleground States.

Now, David is an assistant professor at Boston University where he was awarded the School of Public Health Excellence in Teaching Award during his first year. To keep his students engaged and provide them with real-world information, he often invites legislators to speak to his class, including Steve Beshear, former governor of Kentucky. He also serves as the editor-in-chief for the Public Health Post, a BU website focused on translating health policy for people outside of the public health field, including legislators and the general public. The publication was born out of an initiative introduced by the dean of BU’s School of Public Health. The Public Health Post includes new and ongoing research, profiles on key leaders in the public health community, and hot-button topics that are often at the center of debate.

His research continues to examine the political and policy issues surrounding the Affordable Care Act, and he remains active in his field. During his first year at BU, the United States Supreme Court announced that they would hear King v. Burwell, a case that examined the legality of tax credits as they related to the Affordable Care Act at the state level. David, along with two other colleagues, authored an article titled, “Predicting the Fallout from King v. Burwell – Exchanges and the ACA,” which was published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

David was also recognized as the 2017 recipient of the Thompson Prize for Young Investigators, awarded by the Association of University Programs in Health Administration (AUPHA), for his research and contributions to the field of health management and policy education.

David’s latest project is an ethnographic study into the social determinants of health in the Mississippi Delta, and is made possible by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. This study will mark the 50th anniversary of Robert Kennedy’s historic trip, during which he exposed the issues of hunger and subpar health that plagued the area. David is revisiting the same areas explored by Kennedy— Washington, Bolivar, and Coahoma Counties to examine the state of health among the people who live there. He will use a photovoice technique to collect data and stories, meaning he will give participants a camera and ask them to take photos, allowing him to see the environment through their eyes. He hopes this will lead to a book about his experience, his findings, and where to go from there.

Of his experience at the University of Michigan, David notes that he loved how many brilliant people were on campus working on the Affordable Care Act in a variety of disciplines, all leaders in their fields. He felt it provided a safe environment in which they were able to bounce ideas off one another and build the confidence and the know-how for him to participate in a national conversation. The faculty also acted as a source of support. “I never felt like I was just a student or that I had to wait my turn,” David says of his faculty mentors. “I’m incredibly grateful for the people who were there reading drafts and letting me know about different opportunities.”

David also expresses gratitude for the funding he received while completing his master’s and doctorate degrees. By the time he completed his doctoral work, David and his wife had three children, meaning he had to be strategic about his research and travel practices, and the expenses that went with them. Thanks to funding from the Center for European Studies on campus, David was able to spend a year researching health care in France and becoming familiar with health policy around the world. The Rackham Predoctoral Fellowship allowed him to spend the last year of his program attending notable conferences, being published in well-respected journals, and dedicating his time to the research and writing that led to his citation in King v. Burwell. He and his wife also received assistance from the University for childcare, as well as a Debt Management Award from Rackham, which allowed him to earn multiple graduate degrees while raising a family.

To the graduate students who continue to come after him, David stresses the importance of getting involved and beginning research as early as possible. “It is easy to be overwhelmed by your coursework. Conducting research early on really grounded me, helping focus my coursework, develop more research opportunities and publications, and ultimately find a job.”

David also values the connection between students and alumni: “I benefitted a lot from my program’s alumni, even those who didn’t even overlap with me.” He says his connection with alumni allowed him a resource for advice and helped him navigate crucial decisions. Those connections have turned into friendships and important colleague relationships. He notes that he has had the opportunity to act as a mentor for current students, and looks forward to staying involved and providing mentorship to future Rackham graduate scholars.