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Interview with Ashley B. Thompson: Class of 1991

Each month, a new interview featuring a member of the Bucknell Institute of Public Policy (BIPP) Advisory Board will be posted on the official blog of BIPP. For the month of November, the interviewee is Ashley B. Thompson, an English major and graduate of the Class of 1991.

Ashley B. Thompson ‘91 is a graduate of Bucknell and a member of the BIPP Advisory Board. She is the senior vice president of public policy analysis & development for the American Hospital Association (AHA), for which she oversees areas like hospital finance and payment, quality and patient safety, and health information technology. She has also worked on Capitol Hill as a Health Policy Advisor to the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance, and has spent seven years working in fields of strategic planning, finance and policy for hospitals and health systems after earning her Master’s Degree in Healthcare Administration from the University of Michigan.

1. Why did you decide to become an Advisory Board member of BIPP?

I love healthcare policy, and I love to get back involved with Bucknell and to give back because it really helped in shaping my education, and really helped in getting me to where I am today.

I’ve only been to one meeting, so I’m a new Advisory Board member. It offers a great opportunity to shape a minor in public policy, and to help students to consider a major in public policy. It’s also great hearing from students about work that they’re doing in the public policy space. The meetings allow us to talk through other opportunities with students in terms of how we can encourage the student body to engage with this field [of public policy].

2. You have a ton of experience working in health policy. Can you talk a bit about it, and how you came to be the senior vice president of public policy analysis & development for the American Hospital Association (AHA)?

After leaving Bucknell, I took a year off, but then got my Master’s in healthcare management and policy at the University of Michigan. I went back to Chicago, and spent seven years working in hospitals. My last position there was in strategic planning and policy. Then I went to D.C., where I started working for the American Hospital Association (AHA) on Medicare payment policy…At the hospital level, you can impact individual patients and the community. At the federal level, you can impact all hospitals and the patients they serve.

Then I went up to the Hill [Capitol Hill] to work on the Senate Finance Committee for Chairman Charles Grassley on Medicare Part A issues.  These include Medicare payment of acute care hospitals, rehabilitation hospitals, long term care hospitals and to some extent home health agencies. When I was in Congress, it was really interesting to help to develop new laws.  Congress typically writes the framework, and then the Administration writes the details through regulation.

Today, at the AHA, I help influence how the Administration actually implements various policies. The devil is in the details…it really drills down into the nitty gritty. Some of these regulations are worse than tax code [in terms of their length and complexity]. The Medicare inpatient rule, which just dictates Medicare inpatient payment policy, is 2,000+ pages. It’s really complex.

But that’s part of what we do to improve rules and regulations governing hospitals. Also, we try to promote new changes that help hospitals and our patients. We are active in the opioid debate, in trying to decrease the cost of prescription drugs, and removing regulatory burdens, so that clinicians can spend more time with patients rather than with paperwork.

3. Did you always know you wanted to do something in this line of work?

When I was a senior at Bucknell, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I did come from a family of physicians. One day I was in the Career Development Center, and there was a book on hospital administration; I opened it up, and the first thing I saw was that this career is for those who want the challenge of top level management as well as experience in the humankind aspect, the social service aspect of serving patients and communities.

Hospitals and health systems are some of the most complex industries across America; they’re also the largest employers in many communities. It’s really challenging to manage…to provide new technologies, manage the workforce…and that’s what attracted me to this field, that challenge.

4. Can you talk a bit more about working on Capitol Hill?

Working on Capitol Hill, each year is kind of like a dog year; if you’re there for 2 years, it feels like you’re there for 14. It’s really hard work, but also the most rewarding. The way the staff can collaborate….working all day long in cubicles, meeting with various stakeholders and constituents, participating in the drafting of actual legislation…on some days you meet with senators at 2 o’clock in the morning, then meet with drafters till 5 in the morning, and then get back up at 8 in the morning to be in the office at 9.

Not every position on the Hill is like that, but it is challenging. It is also really fulfilling work, very, very rewarding.

5. What is the most rewarding part about your current job?

There’s so much. One, I really love interacting with hospital and health system C.E.O.s; they are really bright, talented, dedicated individuals and working with them always inspires me. Two, I really love the ability to work to provide healthcare coverage to everyone in America, because I believe so strongly that people need health coverage, that health care is necessary. When people are sick, they’re at their most vulnerable state; when they’re healthy they can be strong and productive employees, employers, parents, community citizens. That’s why it’s my passion to work for the AHA.

6. You left Bucknell with a Bachelor’s Degree in English. Why English?

With an English major you can do everything and nothing. I think that being a strong writer and communicator has served me very, very well. I think the English degree is the basis of the liberal arts philosophy. I also minored in philosophy; I didn’t plan to study that or English, but I fell into it. I don’t necessarily think that I chose English; I think that English chose me.

7. Were you a member of any organizations or clubs at Bucknell?

I was in theater and dance. I was also in the [now disbanded] Tri Delta sorority.

I danced my entire life before Bucknell and really enjoyed it as an outlet and as an avenue so I wasn’t just studying all the time. It provided me with creative relief, and it kept me mentally and physically healthy. I loved the Weis center, where we performed twice a year. Dance also helped me to develop presentation skills by teaching me how not to be scared when getting up in front of large audiences.

Tri Delta was great. It was a nice bonding experience, to immediately have a group of girls who you’re immediately close to. Some of my friends that I met in the sorority are still my best friends today. Also, I met my husband at Bucknell.

8. When you reminisce about Bucknell, where does your mind first take you? What experiences were most impactful for you?

The friendships. The long-lasting forever friendships that both me and my husband developed at school.

9. What advice would you give to students currently attending the University?

Soak it all up, because it’s such a great experience to just learn. Never say no if someone asks you to take on a new challenge; always give it a go. I would also say enjoy it, but make sure that there’s a work/life balance. That’s really the goal. Make sure that you’re not tilted too far into studying in the library, or tilted too far into frat row. Work hard, play hard… and learn a ton.

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