There’s been no shortage of speculation about what the recent election results mean for health policy and its impact on the care that is provided in this country. Media outlets across the board are asking what a Trump administration means for patients, physicians and other healthcare professionals, health insurers and hospitals, and researchers and policy makers working in the science and medicine fields. And while debates around those broad issues capture our social media newsfeeds, underlying complex policy questions are only beginning to be dissected.
The U.S. healthcare system is large and complex and touches the lives of every American. Health policymakers must be careful to consider the full impact their decisions have on patients, providers and insurers. Even small changes can have wide-reaching effects on health care costs, quality and access. The complexity of the dynamics of our healthcare system means that no policy proposal is cut and dry; they all have both intended and unintended consequences. And making changes in one area may lead to issues in another. Let us remember the dictum: “all improvement is change; not all change is improvement”! The challenge is being able to identify when – and for whom – a change is an improvement and to help decision makers address unintended consequences when change creates challenges. That is where we come in.
As the country’s preeminent professional society for health services researchers and health policy analysts, our members work to identify, investigate and predict the effects of health policy so that policymakers can make informed decisions. We build on the discoveries of basic and clinical science to determine how to deliver care and cures most effectively, with the highest level of quality, and in the most efficient way. Our work extends beyond the delivery of healthcare services to understanding how a whole range of factors in individuals’ lives – including where they live, learn, work, pray and play -- affect their health.
As a tangible example, our most recent annual research meeting brought together top university faculty, research center leaders, representatives of major U.S. government health agencies, state and local health department leaders and executives from a wide range of private sector organizations to look at the thorny issues around health care reform, health data, and equity. The studies presented at the meeting offer insights into cost, quality and access – and how these differ for different communities - that are all the more relevant now given the uncertainties of the 2017 health policy agenda.
As we head into inauguration day and prepare for a new administration to enter the White House, we hold firm in our principle that policies affecting health and performance of the health system should be informed by the best and most relevant evidence. After the fanfare of the inauguration, we will once again convene leading health care decision-makers and policy experts at our 17th Annual National Health Policy Conference to put policy insights into context with the latest evidence and lessons learned from policy and practice at the local, state and national levels.
The questions and challenges being raised around health policy go far beyond the health sector itself. Policy debates must consider implications and connections to the business world, our communities and neighborhoods, the environment, public safety, and our increasingly digitally connected world. This complexity is hard to communicate in a headline or 140 characters. It requires diligent and rigorous scientific study.
Evidence is critical. This is what we believe and this is what we do – and will continue to do in 2017 and beyond. No matter how the news cycle may shift, we work to move beyond the soundbites and politics – promoting both the production and use of evidence to transform health and healthcare. It’s been our mission since 1981 and it’s as important now as it was then. At a time of transition and likely change, we as a field and an organization stand ready to answer the question – When is a change an improvement? And for whom?