Eagan Kemp is the health care policy advocate for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. Born in Idaho, Kemp grew up in Bozeman, Montana, where he developed a deep appreciation for the outdoors while camping, rock climbing, skiing and snowboarding. Since moving to the much less mountainous East Coast, his hobbies have shifted significantly; he is now more likely to attend a book talk than go hiking or skiing.
He earned a master’s degree in sociology in 2008 from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada, and a bachelor’s degree in political science and sociology from Utah State University, where he graduated magna cum laude. His academic background focused on the social determinants of health and international health systems.
After completing his master’s degree, he moved to Washington, D.C., where he started work at the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) just after the 2008 election. He served as a senior policy analyst at the GAO for nearly a decade, where he led and published analyses on a wide range of health policy topics, including Medicare, Medicaid, private health insurance, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, the Veterans Health Administration, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and mental health. Since joining Public Citizen in May 2017, much of his time has been devoted to fighting cuts to health care coverage, pushing for Medicare-for-All and lowering drug prices.
Q: Tell us about your role at Public Citizen.
Kemp: There is never a dull moment, as my position involves research, organizing and lobbying. Recently, that has included bringing together different groups working on health care issues, engaging with congressional staff on legislative efforts, speaking with the media and organizing events to highlight our work. Just the other day we delivered more than a million petition signatures supporting the Medicare for All Act to the U.S. Senate to highlight growing support for health care reform.
Q: What made you decide to move from a federal government policy and research job to doing grassroots advocacy and lobbying for a scrappy nonprofit?
Kemp: The outcome of the 2016 election made me realize that incremental policy improvements were likely going to be on the back burner for a while. It felt like the right time to be advocating for the health care system we need, instead of just improving the fragmented system we have.
Q: What does a typical day look like for you?
Kemp: I have been here over six months and I have yet to see a typical day! And that is one of the exciting things about this position. On any given day, I do some combination of: speaking to our fantastic Public Citizen members and supporters, drafting responses to attempts by the Trump administration to sabotage our health care system, researching and writing about health policy issues and speaking to the media or at a rally. I never know exactly how each day will play out, given all the health care fights these days. Staying flexible and keeping my eye on the goal of Medicare for All helps me balance all the excitement that comes my way.
Q: Has working on health care policy changed your view of the health care system?
Kemp: Working at the GAO completely changed the way I viewed health care, Congress and policymaking in general. At GAO, I learned to use data to identify and evaluate policy options; it helped me understand the deeply rooted structures in our health care system and how hard it can be to make substantive improvements, given entrenched interests. But it also showed me that progress is possible, through identifying specific problems, bringing to bear the best information and pulling together the right people. At such an important time for health care in our country, it is hard to argue that any other policy would better address our current challenges than Medicare for All.