In advance of our flagship event convening the two communities for Health Datapalooza and the National Health Policy Conference, AcademyHealth hosted a two-hour virtual event “Health Policy in 2022: A Preview of State and Federal Policy Priorities” that provided an overview of Federal and State health policy priorities for the year to come. The event featured plenary sessions with national thought leaders and state-based public health experts, which included reflections on the health care industry, centering equity in public health and care delivery, and long-term investment in the field.

Centering Health Equity in Public Health Through Health Care Coverage

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure gave the opening keynote address in which she highlighted the ways CMS is working to close health disparity gaps across the nation with the goal of making affordable, meaningful health care available to all. She noted that health equity is at the center of every decision being made at the agency, always asking “how is this action advancing health equity?” when making policy decisions.

“Health equity is the attainment of the highest level of care for all people where everyone has a fair and just opportunity to attain their optimal health regardless of race, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status, geography, preferred language or other factors that affect access to care and health outcomes,” Brooks-LaSure said.

Further, she noted how the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated systematic gaps in health care and care delivery.

“We have a real opportunity to consider the lessons we’ve learned and transform the way we care for people in our health care system,” she said, noting how important health care coverage is for the health of the country during the global pandemic.

Because of this, CMS is focusing its efforts first on health policy, and second on expanding the Affordable Care Act and access to affordable health care through Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, and Marketplace coverage.

Panelists throughout the event reinforced that equity is not a check box or achieved by the formation of a taskforce, but should be at the center of both primary care and public health. As racism has been a declared a public health crisis at the federal level, panelists noted that the work to address structural racism and health equity should not be done in silos but instead through partnerships and collaborative solutions.

Investing in Public Health and Building a Sustainable, Diverse Workforce

Experts at the event noted that while the economy is contingent on and needs the foundation of public health, there has been a systematic divestment in public health.

“COVID-19 is what happens when you don’t invest in public health,” Dave Chokshi said in the panel Public Health and the States: Creating and Sustaining Critical Systems.

J. Nadine Garcia, on the Plans and Prognostications: The Policy Agenda and Health Care Delivery and Industry panel, highlighted the urgency of funding public health as public health emergencies continue to emerge. However, she noted, public health has “boom and bust cycles” of funding instead of a continuation of funds that the field needs. This impacts the public health workforce as it is difficult to hire and retain staff without the guarantee of  continuous funding. We need “long-term, sustained investment of public health; not solely infusions at the time of emergencies,” Garcia said.

The public health and health care workforce has also borne the brunt of the grief and trauma inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The field was already dealing with turnover and systematic understaffing, and the pandemic will only make this worse, Choski noted.

This lack of investment in public health and its workforce impacts the communities being served, especially communities of color. Panelist Norman Oliver highlighted that a robust workforce is needed to monitor data and conduct data analyses regarding health equity and social determinants of health to provide data-driven policy and public health decisions.

During the panel Plans and Prognostications: The Policy Agenda and Health Care Delivery and Industry, Adaeze Enekwechi said that health care writ large “can’t do much about health equity without knowing how to teach people how to take care of diverse populations.”

Panelists repeated the theme that public health and health care/medical professionals must come from the communities they serve. Outreach is needed to diversify the workforce, panelist Gail Christopher said, including outreach to minority serving institutions and historically black colleges and universities. This will be even more necessary if the pandemic’s spotlight on public health increases interest in the field and builds a pipeline for the next generation of the workforce.

Upcoming Health Policy and Data Opportunities

The pre-conference event is included with registration for the in-person Health Datapalooza and National Health Policy Conference taking place April 4-5 in Arlington, VA. A recording is available to all current and future registrants. There are also two more upcoming data and policy-based events, “Health Datapalooza: What’s broken fixable and next in digital health” and the complete in-person (with virtual options) conference. Register for the conference here to gain access to all these important programs.

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Christina Tudor

Digital Communications Associate - AcademyHealth

Christina Tudor is the Digital Communications Associate at AcademyHealth. Read Bio

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