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Kristen Dama L’07 on advocating Medicaid law and policy

April 04, 2014



I’m Kristen Dama. I graduated in 2007 and I am currently a staff attorney at Community Legal Services in Philadelphia. I spend some of my time representing individual clients in public benefits cases and I spend a lot more of my time working on Medicaid law and policy.

I am doing exactly what I wanted to do when I went to law school. I went to law school because I wanted to focus on how the healthcare system was helping or failing low income people. And, especially with the Affordable Care Act that was recently enacted and especially in Pennsylvania where Pennsylvania has lagged in implementing the Affordable Care Act for low income people, it feels like there is such an opportunity for Medicaid advocacy and advocacy for low income people to ensure that they are not being left out of the promise of expanded healthcare for almost everybody in the U.S.

I was a Toll Public Interest Scholar and and I think one of the things that factored least in my decision that in hindsight was one of the biggest gifts was the financial assistance. The Scholarship allowed me to graduate feeling really confident that I wasn’t really encumbered by debt. It also allowed me to be identified as someone who is interested in public interest. So, I was able to make relationships with faculty and get special advising from the beginning. I think Penn has done a really good job of making it so that if your not a Toll Scholar, you still get all kinds of help and all kinds of assistance and all kinds of guidance. But, it sort of gave me a position early on that enabled me to get that from the get go.

As a dual degree student in the bioethics program, which just gave me I think a different spin on health policy and Penn I think is one of the few schools that allows students to do those kinds of dual degree programs. I took Lawyering in the Public Interest with Cathy Carr, who is now my boss and Lou Rulli, who is a former executive director of my organization, Community Legal Services. And that was just really helpful to have a framework for thinking about the work that I am doing now. But I think that the best class that I did was also taught by Lou Rulli and it was a legislative clinic where I would go to Harrisburg once a week and work with a senator, Senator Stewart Greenleaf, and I got a really close look at how the legislature operates, how laws specific to Pennsylvania get made and now I use so much state policy work that is is just a really helpful background for what I do now.

Transcript edited for length.