Medic Aid: The Pioneer Scripting Health-Care Reform
Stuart Portman draws on his well-rounded education to help lawmakers tackle hot-button issues in Washington, D.C.
When the longest-serving Republican senator in U.S. history needs help understanding health care, Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), 83, turns to a fresh-faced kid from St. Louis, who is young enough to be his grandson.
Stuart Portman (BA ’13), at just 27 years old, is the senator’s resident expert and most trusted voice on the hottest of hot-button issues: the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, among other things.
“I have a 'train harder' mentality,” says Portman, who has worked in Hatch’s office for nearly three years. “I do a lot of reading. I do as much learning as I can. I feel like I need to earn the title of being a Medicaid expert so people will believe what I have to say, especially in a time that’s so political like this. It just means that I have to work a little harder.”
Luckily, Portman knows exactly what it’s like to have a lot on his plate.
Following in his older brother’s footsteps, Portman came to the University of Denver in 2009 to pursue a pre-med/political science double major. While on campus, he served as a senator in Undergraduate Student Government and used a work-study opportunity to get hands on experience in his field. He entered the University Honors Program simply because it had experts in philosophy, which he always wanted to study.
“I wanted to go to a place that values a more holistic perspective on what it means to be an academic person,” he says. “I had a wide array of interests, and there was no place else where I could find that blend like DU.”
He draws upon his diverse skill set every day. It’s the reason, he says, he’s been able to find success on Capitol Hill, where he started working immediately after receiving a master’s degree in public health from George Washington University.
His science background builds trust and respect with industry leaders, while he credits the Honors Program with teaching him to keep his policy points, whenever possible, short and sweet. His time chairing the campus Diversity Summit taught him to navigate the political landscape and pursue the bipartisanship that has seemed so elusive recently.
“It was instrumental in my thinking,” says Portman, who also chaired the diversity committee in student government. “Everyone brings something different to the table when they talk about issues related to diversity. You can’t succeed if everyone in the room has the same opinion as you.”
With that in mind, Portman has played a pivotal role behind the scenes, working across the aisle, crafting bills designed to improve long-term health care systems for the neediest.
At the end of this Senate term, Hatch, who serves as the chamber’s president pro-tempore and chairs the finance committee, plans to retire. Portman doesn’t know where his path leads next, but he knows, at least, he’s on the right one.
“Someone has to be there to care,” he says. “I think my passion [for health-care policy] comes from these vulnerable people who are forgotten. This whole experience has been more invigorating than I ever thought.”