NASHP’s Blockbuster Conference Tackles Costs and Addresses Access and Delivery Reform to Improve Health

The 32nd National Academy’s State Health Policy (NASHP) conference, held last week in Chicago, was a blockbuster from start to finish and the largest one in NASHP’s history. The conference opened as treacherous thunderstorms rolled across the Midwest causing untold flight delays and one emergency landing.

Many attendees, NASHP staff, and speakers were delayed and worked hard – testing their patience and perseverance – to reach the event. All the more fitting that the conference kicked off with a speech on climate change and the implications for health and health systems by Gary Cohen, founder and president of Health Care Without Harm and Practice Greenhealth. This leader provided compelling evidence laying out the case for policy action as climate change is a key public health concern. He noted that if the nation’s hospitals were a country, they would be the 13th largest emitter of greenhouse gases, ahead of Great Britain, and showcased best practices by several hospitals to reduce their environmental impact.

Throughout the conference, hospitals were a focus – attendees addressed the rising costs of consolidation, the sustainability of rural hospitals, and balance-billing initiatives to protect consumers from surprise medical bills issued by out-of-network provides across the delivery system.

Sessions also addressed social determinants of health and the implicit, institutional bias that requires policymakers to work differently to assure health equity for all. Data and how it informs policy, particularly in the Medicaid program, was a popular topic as NASHP partnered with New England States Consortium Systems Organization to bring policy and data expertise together.

Several sessions addressed substance and opioid use disorders and behavioral health, shining a light on the broader issues behind the opioid crisis and the special needs of pregnant women with substance use disorder.

A number of new topics rose to prominence this year with new attention on long-term services and supports, housing and transportation, suicide prevention, family caregiving, and  palliative care.

Again this year attendees reviewed progress to date in tackling prescription drug prices. Hundreds gathered for a full-day preconference that examined numerous issues impacting drug costs and learned more about the growing role of states attorneys general in tackling drug pricing, notably through a case led by the Connecticut attorney general that challenged alleged generic drug price fixing. New proposals were introduced, including a public option drug plan.

This year, states revisited their role as large public purchasers and contemplated how best to leverage that buying clout to achieve lower health care and drug costs – work that NASHP will continue to support in the months ahead.

As in previous years, attendees discussed maternal and child health, how to sustain affordable insurance markets, and a host of other issues. NASHP remains a unique forum for state policymakers from the legislative branch, attorneys general, insurance departments, and other executive branch offices to come together with researchers, advocates, providers, and private-sector representatives to dive deeply and across the silos of perspective to contemplate new ways to provide affordable, quality care to all and improve population health.