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Friday, September 14, 2018

Bringing social insurance topics to your classroom with resources from the Academy

Renée M. Landers

Professor of Law, Suffolk University Law School, and Board Vice Chair and Distinguished Visiting Fellow, National Academy of Social Insurance

Nearly 20 million students will be attending American colleges and universities this fall, and over 56 million will attend elementary and secondary schools. The National Academy of Social Insurance serves as a resource for educators across the country, including Academy Members and professors like me, who are teaching students about social insurance – from the basics of Social Security to the more technical health care policy challenges facing the nation. For example, Academy Member Joseph Quinn of Boston College uses A Young Person’s Guide to Social Security in two courses. One is a first-year seminar for undergraduates called, “Am I My Brother’s (or Sister’s) Keeper?” Professor Quinn also uses the publication for an undergraduate economics course, “Social Insurance in America: Public Policy in an Aging Society.”

While on my teaching sabbatical this fall, I am pleased to serve as the Academy’s first-ever Distinguished Visiting Fellow – a unique opportunity to help the Academy advance its policy work. Being in Washington, DC gives me an opportunity to take stock of what more the Academy could do to help the next generation, like my students, understand the role of social insurance. In the meantime, here are a few publications fellow professors and other educators might use for students in health care, economics, law, public health, and public policy:

Report to the New Leadership and the American People on Social Insurance and Inequality (January 2017): The Report describes the contours of the nation’s major social insurance programs and presents a catalogue of challenges confronting the financing and administration of these programs, including the gaps left unaddressed by existing programs. It identifies changes in the nature of work and the economy that pose barriers to the efficacy of social insurance programs. The sections of the Report summarizing the basic features and policy options for each of the major social insurance programs function as a convenient textbook, developed and vetted by experts on each of the programs and written in an informative and accessible style. Because the Report is comprehensive in describing existing programs and anticipating future needs, it could be used for a course surveying the social insurance infrastructure. Discrete sections could be used for courses on specific topics such as Medicare, Medicaid, prescription drug costs, or unemployment. 

Addressing Pricing Power in Health Care Markets: Principles and Policy Options to Strengthen and Shape Markets (April 2015): For courses on health care economics or antitrust law, this report examines the impact of market consolidation in the health care sector. 

Medicaid’s Role in Improving the Social Determinants of Health: Opportunities for States (June 2017): This document offers perspectives for a law school or public health course on Medicaid, or courses on health care disparities and the role of social determinants in the health status of populations and individuals. 

Overcoming Barriers to Retirement Security for Women: The Role of Social Security (December 2016) and Social Security and the Racial Wealth Gap (December 2016): For courses in law or public policy schools on gender and the law, and on race and inequality, these reports highlight the disparities policies sometimes can create.

Later this fall, the Academy will release a study panel report on long-term care services and supports and universal family leave policies. We also expect to examine the Medicare eligibility age and the concept of universal basic income, with additional publications to improve understanding of the options for addressing these vexing contemporary challenges for social insurance protections for workers and families. Depending on the course and topic(s) a professor wishes to address, other Academy publications may offer succinct and direct information and analysis to engage students. The Academy’s annual reports on workers’ compensation and the Social Security Trustees Reports might be useful in analyzing current government pronouncements on the status of these social insurance programs.

These titles represent only a few among many possibilities for professors to consider. Most Academy publications may be downloaded free-of-charge from the Academy’s website, and printed copies of some publications may be available. Not only are the materials current and useful, they are cost effective at a time when meeting the costs of books for courses represents one of the real challenges for students pursuing higher education. I encourage my fellow educators to consider what Academy materials and standard expositions will complement other materials in relevant courses.

For the many other Members already using Academy materials – please feel free to share specific examples from your courses e.g., reading materials (from the Academy or other groups), syllabus sections, research assignments. Please email me at rlanders@nasi.org.

Too many students finish school without knowing much about our nation’s social insurance programs. Too many young adults earn their first paycheck without realizing what the “FICA” means. With additional funding and partnerships, the Academy is well-poised to help more educators across the country, working with students from all backgrounds college-age and older, as well as secondary school students, understand how these programs work and the role social insurance plays in their lives, in the lives of their families, and in our nation’s economic future. 

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