As Pennsylvania's new Secretary of the Department of Human Services, Teresa Miller JD'02 has been learning how to oversee an agency with more than 16,000 employees, a budget of tens of billions of dollars and programs that impact every aspect of American life, from Medicaid to child welfare.
Since she was confirmed as head of DHS in March 2018, her learning curve has been steep but rewarding. Her previous job as state insurance commissioner in Pennsylvania more than qualified her for the new role — last year, she spent most of her energy pushing back on multiple attempts by the federal government to repeal the Affordable Care Act. She testified four times before various congressional committees on the potential impact of repealing the law.
"I believe the conversations that took place while so many of us were attempting to save the law are one of the reasons the law is now more popular than ever," she says. "People now have a better understanding of the law and how they or their family, friends and neighbors have benefited from it."
In her fight against the repeal, Miller regularly incorporated one topic she learned about at the College of Law: federalism.
She says she's had "a front row seat" to a major case study in federalism over the last seven years because she's seen the implementation of ACA from several perspectives. In addition to her past job as insurance regulator in Oregon and Pennsylvania, she used to be a liaison for the states on behalf of the Obama administration.
"It's one thing to read about federalism in concept," she says. "The biggest lesson is that it's a lot messier in practice than in theory."
As she looks to the future of DHS, Miller wants to scrub the stigma attached to several department programs, such as child welfare, Medicaid or behavioral health, which prevents people seeking help. She also wants to further modernize the state Medicaid program and improve care for Pennsylvania's lowest-income citizens, the vast majority of whom are women and children.
She says, "If individuals don't have affordable housing, struggle with food insecurity or don't have transportation to get to medical appointments, the quality of their health insurance or health care is irrelevant."
About Willamette University College of Law
As the first law school in the Pacific Northwest, Willamette University College of Law boasts an innovative program designed to prepare leaders in government, private practice, and business with the lawyering skills needed in the 21st Century. Willamette Law’s small class sizes foster an interactive learning environment among our diverse student population with a thriving externship and clinical program, ample practical skills courses, and a new Business Lawyering Institute. With a “one student at a time” placement approach, our students are given individualized development plans and tools for success in today's legal job market. In recent years, outside industry watchers such as Moody’s and The National Jurist Magazine have recognized Willamette Law for its positive job placement results. Willamette lawyers are the best dealmakers, problem solvers, community leaders, and change-makers in the most innovative and exciting region in the country. Our location — nestled in the heart of the Willamette Valley and across the street from the Oregon State Capitol, Supreme Court and many state agencies — is an advantage that cannot be matched anywhere in the region.