While the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has expanded coverage to millions of Americans, it has also pushed to the surface a new set of challenges for many states to provide quality care for low-income populations despite budget limitations. Along with these challenges, health reform also creates the opportunity for cutting-edge research, productive dialogues, and innovative ideas.

As a new administration prepares to move into the White House, uncertainty naturally grows and the generation and promotion of strong evidence should have a prominent role in the conversation.

We have all heard the phrase “Two heads are better than one” at some point in our lives. This is particularly pertinent to state health policymaking as the challenges presented, specifically for Medicaid, are complex and necessitate the need for insightful, diverse perspectives to develop transformative solutions that work to create a more value-based health care system. A partnership between a state health agency and its respective in-state university is a strategic vehicle that can create space for these critical conversations and sharing of ideas to occur. This is where AcademyHealth’s State-University Partnership Learning Network (SUPLN) comes in.

The SUPLN is an ongoing collaboration that works to facilitate peer-to-peer learning and dialogue among state-university partnerships through various ways including hosting meetings and bi-monthly web conferences with the goal of improving the cost and quality of care of the Medicaid program.  

 “State-University Partnerships’ efforts to support evidence-based policymaking at the state level are critically important,” said SUPLN Director Enrique Martinez-Vidal.  “Connecting both researchers and policymakers across states allows them to share ideas and learn from their peers who are interested in how policymaking and programmatic implementation can be better informed by objective evidence.”

Whereas many state Medicaid agencies often lack resources and funding to develop evidence to support the implementation of programs and initiatives, universities may be in a better position to support research through their extensive expertise and capabilities. Through these partnerships, policymakers have an opportunity to be more engaged in the research process and are more likely to efficiently move evidence into actionable policies.

Partnerships are taking steps to realize this new vision by developing methods to capture and link critical data information needed to not only generate evidence, but also communicate the evidence to policymakers who then act.

Recently, at the 2016 Association for Public Policy Analysis & Management (APPAM) Fall Research Conference, leaders from partnerships in the SUPLN provided insights into the theme of the conference, The Role of Research in Making Government More Effective. Topics covered by SUPLN members at the APPAM conference included the opioid epidemic, high-cost Medicaid beneficiaries, and data analytics.

As the opioid crisis continues to impact millions of individuals each day, the need to get high-quality, timely evidence into the hands of policymakers becomes increasingly important. Dr. Julie Donohue, Executive Director of the Medicaid Research Center in the Health Policy Institute at the University of Pittsburgh, presented her partnership’s research on medical treatment for opioid and heroin abuse in Pennsylvania’s Medicaid program and how it informed the development of health homes known the Centers of Excellence.

Dr. Joel Cantor, Director of the Center for State Health Policy with Rutgers University shared how his state was able to work with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and other government officials to generate and move evidence through policy recommendations made by a task force examining Medicaid high-utilizers in their state.

Cynthia Woodcock, Executive Director of The Hilltop Institute at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, spoke on Maryland’s data analytics at the APPAM, highlighting how now, more than ever, states have a key role in shaping policy.

“As part of the ACA ‘repeal and replace’ discussion, Washington is likely to look to the states for financing and delivery system innovations. More than ever before, state policymakers will need to be ready access to objective, data-driven research and analytics. SUPLN’s 21 state-university partnerships are well positioned to meet this need as our network facilitates cross-state learning.”

While state-university partnerships are able to learn within the individual partnership itself, much can also be gained from bringing different partnerships together to share best practices and information about innovative health projects. As health care challenges become more complex and health policy directions become uncertain, there is indispensable value in getting as many heads together as possible, and that is exactly what AcademyHealth’s SUPLN seeks to accomplish.

To learn more AcademyHealth’s SUPLN, click here.

Mekdes Tsega

State Health Policy Intern - AcademyHealth

Mekdes Tsega is a State Health Policy Intern at AcademyHealth. She assists primarily with supporting the State... Read Bio