The outcome of the national election on November 8 and its potential to shape – either positively or negatively — the healthcare agenda in Washington and locally in years to come was on the minds of the moderators and presenters as they addressed nearly 150 attendees at MMS’s 17th annual State of the State’s Healthcare Leadership Forum held at MMS headquarters on October 19.
Moderators James Braude and Margery Eagan, co-hosts of WGBH’s Boston Public Radio, noted during opening remarks that constructive discussions of healthcare have been largely absent from the presidential debates and during most national campaign appearances by both candidates. Braude said that the candidates seemed bent to “shed blood” rather than to engage in vigorous fisticuffs about how to control the costs of prescription medicines, for example, or how to improve the Affordable Care Act. Yet many voters, if not most, he observed, collectively worry about these issues.
Ray Campbell, the newly appointed executive director of the Massachusetts Center for Health Information and Analysis (CHIA), said that Massachusetts remains a “bright spot” in this dark national political landscape. In the Bay State, he emphasized, “we have strong bi-partisan support that has transcended party lines” when it comes to providing quality health care for all citizens. Unlike the negative rhetoric that has surface nationally during election-year discussions of Obamacare, Campbell remarked, “there is no talk of a repeal or replacement of Massachusetts’ healthcare reform.” Campbell further noted that CHIA and other state agencies must continue to aggregate data and to use it as fodder to better manage spending, which this year is at a 4.1 percent increase, exceeding the previous year’s benchmarks. “We are exploring ways to do a better job to use the data we collect to shed a light on spending in Massachusetts,” he said, “so we can institute statewide efforts to better control it.”
Kate Walsh, president and chief executive officer at Boston Medical Center (BMC), said that while BMC has grown “out of adolescence” by celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, “we still need to improve so we can fulfill our mission, namely to provide ‘exceptional care without exception.’” Toward that end, Walsh said, “we have to earn our patients’ trust and invest in a rigorous quality improvement agenda.” Tailoring programs at the hospital to respond to patients’ needs, such as BMC’s program to treat opioid use and abuse, is just one example of how Walsh envisions BMC to be “part of the solution do to a better job because our patients deserve it.” The challenge facing healthcare institutions in Massachusetts is to “remove barriers” and to “empower patients” to take firmer control of their health.
Michael Dowling, president and chief executive officer of Northwell Health, a conglomerate of 21 hospitals and over 450 patient facilities and physician practices in New York and New Jersey, echoed this theme of empowerment, urging the audience to define it as a movement not just for patients but also for health care providers. “Too often,” Dowling said, “we as health care professionals play the victim. We must take pride in our work, to be optimistic, and face the reality that our business is changing. We must not become prisoners of the past, we must embrace change. One way of doing this is by becoming leaders in the digital world. Otherwise, we run the risk of becoming “Uber-ized,” as someone else will find a way of doing what we do better.” Toward this end, Dowling encouraged his listeners to adapt to the needs of the consumer/patient who, he said, are increasingly more educated, with more access to technology than ever before. He concluded: “We must ask ourselves what skills we will need in the next 5 to 10 years, since our world is always changing, and health care is in a transformative stage.”
Robert J. Blendon, professor of health policy and political analysis at Harvard’s Chan School of Public Health, brought the forum full circle by sharing research he and his colleagues have conducted on the 2016 election, revealing strong partisan views with regards to health policy. Harvard researchers asked, “How Has the ACA Impacted the Country?” They found that 66 percent of Democrats responded that Obamacare has had a positive impact, while 72 percent of Republicans responded by saying ACA has a negative impact. Overall, he noted, healthcare surfaced as the third most important policy issue nationally, with the economy/jobs ranking as the primary issues, and terrorism/national security the secondary issues of importance. Blendon concluded that we will all have to wait for the outcome of the impending election to determine where healthcare emerges in our nation’s priorities. He concluded, “Major changes in health policy only occur when one party holds the presidency and both houses of Congress.”