PFC Spotlight: Academic Fellow Alumna Allison Hoffman image

November 10, 2016 Petrie-Flom Center

Allison Hoffman was an Academic Fellow from 2008-2010, during which time she completed an article on the multiple purposes of the individual mandate. Today, she is Professor of Law at the UCLA School of Law. 

When did you first become interested in health law policy, biotechnology, and bioethics?

I grew up to conversation about health law policy and bioethics, with a doctor father and physical therapist mother.  It was in the ether.  Professionally, I started working on health-related topics as a management consultant at the Boston Consulting Group after college.  I went to one of the first e-health conferences to brainstorm about business development.  To give you a sense of what e-commerce looked like in those days, Amazon was only in the business of selling books.  The stars of the e-health show were Healtheon, a new venture by the Netscape founder and backed by Kleiner-Perkins and others, that was intending to streamline healthcare, and WebMD.  Healtheon later IPO’d and bought WebMD, but neither achieved the influence and fame that one might have guessed based on their late 1990s e-health profile. 

What attracted you to the Academic Fellowship program at the Petrie-Flom Center?

I applied for the PF fellowship in its third year.  I almost applied in its first year, when I was an associate at Ropes and Gray, but in retrospect I am glad I didn’t because I would have been competing with Holly [Lynch, current Executive Director], Ben [Roin, former Faculty co-Director] , and Glenn [Cohen, current Faculty Director] for a spot!  I loved that the program fostered the space and support to create a foundation for an academic career.  Unlike some of the other fellowship programs out there, the main emphasis was writing and publishing.  That was what I needed to do, both to confirm I wanted an academic career and to be able to launch one. 

What was the focus of your Academic Fellowship research, and how did Petrie-Flom community assist you in completing it?

I wrote about the individual mandate, which had been enacted in 2006 in Massachusetts but was not yet part of the national agenda (when I started my fellowship, the primary battles between Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama were still in progress, at a time that Clinton supported the IM and Obama did not). I examined the different purposes a mandate could serve and thus the different motivations someone might have for supporting it as policy, and I considered which purposes were more or less likely to be successful. 

Perhaps most importantly, Einer [Elhauge, Founding Director] was extremely enthusiastic about the topic when I proposed it and encouraged me to pursue it, even when I hit some resistance elsewhere. It ended up being a fortuitous topic to be talking about in job interviews in 2009-2010 when an individual mandate had found its way into federal legislation that would later become law, as the ACA. Glenn and Ben, who were first-year faculty at Harvard when I started my fellowship, read and commented on multiple drafts and pushed me on every aspect of the analysis.  [Former Academic Fellows] Talha Syed, Abby Moncrieff, and Mike Frakes were also especially helpful sounding boards as I worked through the project.

What were your key takeaways from the Academic Fellowship? Have you continued to interact with the Center and/or its affiliates since completing your fellowship?

My biggest takeaway was confidence that pursuing a legal academic career was the right path and a great entry-level position at UCLA! 

I continue to interact with the Center and affiliates in countless ways. As just one example, I just finished editing The Oxford Handbook of U.S. Health Law with Glenn, and Bill Sage, and because of this project probably have received more emails from Glenn than from anyone else in my life this year. As another, I recently had the pleasure to return for the Petrie-Flom 10th anniversary event, where I sat on a panel with Einer and Abby and had the chance to catch up with many former fellows.  And whenever I go to a health law event, I know I’ll have friends I’m excited to see from my time at PF.

How has the Academic Fellowship influenced your career?

The most important way the AF influenced my career was to help me make a successful transition from practice into academia. But it also shaped my thinking in ways that are lasting. The work that I read during my fellowship and many of the conversations I had with people at PF and Harvard are foundational for how I approach academic questions, to this day. I also still teach a version of a seminar that I first co-taught with Chris Robertson in 2010.  

Anything else you’d like to add?

I still think fondly about my PF office on the 3rd floor on Everett street.  It had the most wonderful slanted ceiling under the eaves of the roof, which created an extremely tranquil reading space, where I tucked a lamp and ikea chair, next to a tea kettle and stash of tea and chocolate.  I think Kathy Zeiler took over that office when I left. 

I will also never forget how much it rained during the first year of my fellowship.  I lived across town and rented a parking spot about a half away and I was soaked to the core by the time I arrived most days.

The years I was at Harvard, there was a rich workshopping environment among many of the Harvard fellows, not just the PF fellows.  I had the chance to get to know a number of wonderful people who are now successful academics across the country in field other than health law, including Stavros Gadinis, who sat down the hall from me, Lily Faulhaber, Ganesh Sitaraman, and many others. 

Finally, the first time I met many of the PF fellows, including Ben and Glenn, was at a game night the spring before I started.  It was nice to see the lighter side of things in the community.  

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