Feature Stories Campus Events All Stories

Public Policy and Health Advocacy Madeline Morcelle '15L is lobbying congress, drafting bills, analyzing legislation, developing strategies to safeguard health access, and more.

MadelineMorcelle2 Public Policy and Health AdvocacyMadeline Morcelle

Madeline T. Morcelle, JD, MPH, is the Director of Public Benefits Law at the Mississippi Center for Justice, a Fellow of the Mississippi Women’s Policy Institute, and an alumna of the Washington and Lee University School of Law, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and State University of New York at Buffalo.

Madeline Morcelle ‘15 entered W&L Law with a broad interest in using public policy to address social disadvantages.

“I selected W&L Law with the knowledge that many alumni focused their careers on public policy practice,” she explained. “At W&L, I had the opportunity to study health law, comparative health policy, poverty law and policy, bioethics, and administrative law.”

She also took advantage of research and teaching assistant positions and spent a semester in Washington D.C. Many of her former professors continue to serve as mentors, Morcelle said, offering guidance throughout her challenging career.

As her legal education progressed, Morcelle’s focus narrowed, and she began to concentrate specifically on health policy and advocating for health justice.

After graduation, she pursued a Master’s in Public Health in Health Policy at Harvard. From there she found a job at the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, supporting the design implementation of Medicaid and Medicare reforms. After the Trump transition, she found a job as a Staff Attorney at the Network for Public Health Law and, at the same time, she served as a Research Scholar at the Center for Public Health at Arizona State University’s College of Law.

“I have learned that health is about so much more than health care,” Morcelle said. “It necessitates safe, stable, and affordable housing; sufficient nutritious food, and the realization of other basic health-related human rights.”

In her current role as the Director of Public Benefits Law at the Mississippi Center for Justice, a public interest law firm, Morcelle works to protect the health benefits of Mississippians.

“Much of my work involves analyzing legislation, regulations, and other policies as they impact Medicaid, SNAP, and other public benefits,” Morecelle explained. Using her analysis, she then works to develop proactive and defensive strategies “to safeguard and strengthen access.”

Oftentimes Morcelle has to respond to state legislators, administrative agencies and congressional staffs’ requests for legal and policy analysis; other times, her work starts with concerned community members and snowballs from there.

For example, an “opt-out” bill that Morcelle drafted with bipartisan advocates and state legislators was the result of community members and community organizations’ complaints about an antiquated policy: in Mississippi, those with drug-related felony convictions were disqualified from SNAP and TANF benefits. The resulting economic instability and hunger for individuals re-entering society after jail time contributed to the recidivism rate, Morcelle said. Congress’ “Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act” in 1996 imposed the ban, but authorized states to opt-out. By the time Morcelle and the MCJ began working on a response to this policy, 47 other states had addressed the disqualification.

Morcelle is also a Fellow at the Mississippi Women’s Policy Institute, and during this legislative session her fellowship cohort is working with the Mississippi Black Women’s roundtable and Mississippi Women’s Economic Security to secure state equal pay legislation.

“Women are shortchanged by colossal wage gaps in Mississippi,” Morcelle said. Women in Mississippi earn 75 cents on the dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men.

“The gap experienced by women of color is wider,” Morcelle added. “Black, Native, Latina, and Asian women are paid just 56, 55, 60, and 66 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men.”

Mississippi is the last state in the nation without state legal protections against gender-based pay discrimination.

Morcelle’s other work at the MCJ includes organizing responses to federal administrative attacks on public benefits. For example, two years ago, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) published its then-proposed public charge regulation.

“This makes it harder for lower-income lawfully present immigrants to secure a green card if they or family members participate in public benefits for which they are eligible,” Morcelle said. “The rule forces immigrant families who work hard, pay their taxes, and follow the rules to make a heartbreaking choice between accessing Medicaid and other often lifesaving programs and staying together.”

The MCJ has joined a coalition of other legal and advocacy groups that filed an amicus brief challenging the legality of the new rule.

“I am also lobbying Congress to stop implementation, working with MCJ’s remarkable immigration law team and partners to organize Know Your Rights training for immigrant communities, and providing legal help and resources to help immigrant families navigate new rules affecting access to health care and nutrition benefits,” Morcelle said.

Morcelle thinks of her time at W&L Law as a platform for her current undertakings. As a student, she joined the Women in the Law Society (WLSO) and worked with other members to organize fundraising, social, and professional development events, including the inaugural Lara D. Gass Women in The Law Symposium.

“W&L Law offered fertile ground for me to realize my potential as a lawyer, public policy advocate, and human.”

If you know any W&L alumni who would be great profile subjects, tell us about them! Nominate them for a web profile.