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March 6, 2023

A Conversation with Tim Westmoreland

By Colin Cox (C’26)

On February 21 our class had the privilege of hearing Tim Westmoreland, a professor of practice emeritus at Georgetown Law, speak on his experience in the federal government helping to shape health care policy. He shared with us how growing up with parents that worked in a tuberculosis sanitarium formed his desire be involved in the health care system. This inspired him to do health law, but the field was undeveloped when he went to law school. Now it is a burgeoning field in the legal world with many subfields. However, at the time he graduated from law school, Professor Westmoreland could not find any significant firms dedicated to health law. It was actually by a very lucky coincidence that a committee in the U.S. House of Representatives was being organized, requiring experts in health law. Professor Westmoreland described this as being a very rare occurrence. He then shared the usefulness of getting a J.D., saying that it frequently opens doors to career opportunities in a wide variety of jobs outside of just practicing law. Especially for those interested in health policy, going to law school for only three years might be more financially advantageous as well as time-saving over pursuing an M.D. and becoming a physician.

He explained that as a staffer for a House subcommittee on health and the environment, he learned how to use a “sideways approach” when trying to persuade representatives to support the policy that the committee chair was hoping to pass. This involved emphasizing aspects of the legislation that would make the whole policy more digestible to those initially opposed to the bill. He applied this strategy during the HIV pandemic in the 1980s to garner support for increased funding for research into HIV/AIDS and potential treatments, despite the prevailing homophobic atmosphere on the Hill. He shared what it was like to act as a sort of intermediary between AIDS activist groups and policymakers as he was working to advance change through a humorous image of being in his blue blazer while being around intense activists like those in ACT UP. Then, he described having to sit down with homophobic congresspeople to try to sway their votes. Professor Westmoreland emphasized that it could be very frustrating to have to deal with politicians who he described as “never being fully altruistic.” 

It was invaluable to hear his insider’s view on how health policy works and how difficult it is to maneuver the formulation of health legislation given how politicized it is. He described how many health care reforms have been disrupted through partisanship, especially in the case of the failed Clinton administration health care reform and the Affordable Care Act. As someone who has long considered a career in the government, it was an absolute pleasure to learn from the experiences Professor Westmoreland shared about his overall extraordinary career.

Colin Cox (C’26) is an undergraduate student at Georgetown University studying biology on the pre-medical track. He is a student in the Conversations in Health: Global to Local course.