This Month in HPM: Building Awareness About Health Policy Alternatives

Our nation’s health policies have been uncertain for months, and recent actions by the federal government have only heightened that uncertainty. One of the many ways that faculty and researchers in the Department of Health Policy and Management have helped policymakers make informed choices and aid those affected by legislation prepare for the impacts of potential changes is by bringing together experts to share their knowledge in public forums. An example is a recent event held at the school that was widely attended and watched by students and faculty, as well as many others who look to us for expert insight and advice, “The Affordable Care Act—What Comes Next?”
The three-hour event included three panels and featured 15 health policy experts from both within and outside the George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health’s Department of Health Policy and Management (HPM). Panelists shared their insights and wisdom about the implications of upcoming plans to revise the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA) on key sectors, including consumers, health care providers and the public health system. In addition to drawing a large crowd to the school’s auditorium, the event was live-streamed to a national audience.
Professor Sara Rosenbaum moderated a panel highlighting both the achievements and challenges associated with the ACA. The panel’s speakers agreed on the ACA’s importance, but also pointed out some of its structural problems that could benefit from tinkering. “Insurance markets are not collapsing” and the market is actually relatively stable, observed Sabrina Corlette, a research professor at Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms. Dean Rosen, a partner at the bipartisan lobbying team of Mehlman Catagnett Rosen & Thomas, noted that the insurance market isn’t doing well in some states, but is doing very well in others. Diane Rowland, executive vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, pointed out that the Children’s Health Insurance Program hasn’t really fit into the ACA. Economist Gail Wilensky, a senior fellow at Project Hope, also made astute observations.
Professor Leighton Ku, the lead author of an influential study predicting substantial economic disruption if the ACA is repealed, moderated the second panel focused on health insurance, hospitals and economic considerations. Topics discussed by the panel included the observation that maternity coverage has recently been under attack by Adam Sonfield, senior policy manager at the Guttmacher Institute. Mila Kofman, executive director of the District of Columbia Health Benefits Exchange Authority credited the ACA for ensuring that D.C. had close to universal coverage for its residents. Dan Hawkins, senior vice president for Research and Public Policy at the National Association of Community Health Centers, pointed out that the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid coverage was very important for community health centers. The version of the Trump Administration’s American Health Care Act bill that failed at the end of March “would have undone a lot of progress we had made with our patients,” said Beth Feldpush, a GW DrPH alumna who is now the senior vice president of Policy and Advocacy at America’s Essential Hospitals.
Maureen Byrnes, lead research scientist at HPM, chaired the final panel on population and public health issues. Panelist Richard Hamburg, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Trust for America’s Health, raised concerns about President Trump’s budget “blueprint,” pointing out that included cuts to public health, emergency preparedness, and funding for combatting diabetes, antibiotic resistance, and opioid addiction. Professor Jeff Levi pointed out that public health departments maintain important information about social determinants of health and what interventions are most effective. One of the best ways to improve health care is to prevent people from having to use it, stressed Michael Fraser, executive director of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. Other important comments came from HPM Research Professor Janet Heinrich who served as the associate administrator of the Bureau of Health Professions in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) during the Obama Administration.
Putting on and participating in events like these is just one of the many ways that HPM faculty and staff are actively working to influence the debates on Capitol Hill, inform the myriad groups of professionals impacted by federal health policy decisions, and train the next generations of health policymakers to continue the critical work needed to make our world a healthier place.