Making a career at Health and Human Services
At first glance, the career path that Gregory Demske ’90 followed after graduating from The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law seems to be a fairly straight one.
He admits that he “fell into” his first post-law-school job at the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Nearly 20 years later, Demske – although continually changing titles and increasing his responsibilities – works for the same department today.
But the ever-changing landscape of the health care industry and regulations have made Demske’s career a dynamic and challenging one.
“If you would have asked me when I started here, I would have told you that I would work for (HHS) for three years,” he said. “But, looking back, I have always been able to move to a slightly different position or do new things to keep it exciting and challenging. I have always had great mentors and colleagues to find a way to keep myself challenged here.”
Demske spent most of his childhood in Upstate New York where his father was an administrator for The State University of New York. The family moved to Oxford, Ohio, when Demske’s dad took a job with Miami University, where Demske would later earn his undergraduate degree in finance.
But upon graduating from Miami, Demske didn’t have any immediate job offers and hadn’t considered law school.
“I spent the summer in Cape Cod waiting tables and that kind of stuff,” he said with a laugh. “I then decided to go to Hawaii for five months and worked as a beach bum. I worked to pay the rent, and, while I was out there, I decided that I might as well take the LSAT.”
Just a few months later, Demske was sitting in OSU’s law school orientation.
“I wasn’t too sure what I wanted to do with a law degree,” he said.
His second summer at Moritz, Demske worked for a small law firm in Columbus, where he assisted plaintiffs’ attorneys who handled employment discrimination claims.
“I enjoyed the work, but I didn’t feel like it was something I would do after graduation. It wasn’t a good fit for my skills and temperament. My skills made me a better fit to be a prosecutor-type person, but I didn’t want to prosecute street crime. … I wanted to work for a firm that I felt good about the positions that I was representing.”
In his 3L year, HHS came to Columbus and interviewed on campus. “I enjoyed the trial practice work I did in law school, and I thought that it may be something that I would be interested in,” he said.
But he admitted that his knowledge of health law in 1990 was lacking.
“At the time, there was one health law class at Ohio State, and I didn’t take it,” he said. “I didn’t know the difference between Medicare and Medicaid.”
But, since then, his knowledge of the field – as well as the field itself – has burgeoned.
Now the assistant inspector general for legal affairs in the Office of the Inspector General for HHS, Demske is the second-in-charge of the 75-person office. Demske’s primary responsibilities are overseeing the office’s three branches: administrative and civil remedies, advisory opinions, and in-house general counsel.
The group that handles the office’s administrative and civil remedies cases is the largest. It primarily imposes program exclusions from Medicare or Medicaid and civil money penalties on health care providers, and litigates those actions within the department.
Demske spends most of his time reviewing the settlements reached with health care providers alleged to have violated government policies.
“I love my job. We have an incredible amount of autonomy,” he said. “We get to decide what position we will take on the cases. We have a lot of responsibility and a lot of discretion. We have the ability to administer our authorities in a way that we feel best advances the interests of the government.”
Demske started in the department as an attorney who would represent the government in the administrative hearings regarding alleged violations of Medicare and Medicaid. Around 1996, Demske began handling civil aspects of the HHS cases. Particularly, his office would fight for the monetary retribution from health care providers.
“But probably more importantly, we would decide whether the company should be allowed to continue to participate in Medicare or Medicaid,” he said. “We determine the best route and what resources should be expended to ensure future compliance.”
In his current position, Demske said he is drawing on all of his prior experiences in the department. In fact, he has twice been called to Congress to testify before the Senate Special Committee on Aging.
“Right now there is a big emphasis on health care fraud,” he said. “There is so much interest in health care reform and how we can be more efficient and save more money. I think this is spurring more interest than ever.”
Demske is married to his wife, Tamra Mendelson, and the couple have two young daughters, Erika and Juliet. They live in Takoma Park, Md.