Bracing for change: Key takeaways from State of Reform

Amy Snow Landa / January 11, 2017

By Amy Snow Landa and Jacque Seaman

More than 650 health care leaders, industry insiders and policy experts gathered last week at the SeaTac Hilton for the Washington State of Reform Health Policy Conference. As members of The Fearey Group’s health care and life science practice, we were delighted to be among the participants for this major annual event.

Here are a few takeaways from the day’s keynote sessions and panels:

  1. Even among policy insiders, there is tremendous uncertainty and confusion about the changes coming to health care. There will be change—that is a certainty. “The question is how and in what context,” said James Capretta, Milton Friedman Chair at the American Enterprise Institute. He predicted Republicans will soon repeal the Affordable Care Act, as promised, but will delay implementation to a future date – possibly one, two or even three years out. This so-called “repeal and delay” strategy, he said, is a “bad idea” that will only add to the confusion.
  1. Changes at the federal level will have a major impact on the states. Here in Washington, state officials, policymakers and stakeholder groups have invested significant time and effort to implement the state-run health benefit exchange, Washington Healthplanfinder, and expand Medicaid coverage to more than 600,000 lower-income residents. As a result, the state’s uninsured rate has fallen to just 5.8 percent – less than half what it was a few years ago. If the ACA is repealed without a clear replacement and a continuation of funding, state officials will face a significant challenge trying to figure out how to respond.
  1. Washington state needs to keep moving forward on the health care front. There was broad agreement among the speakers and panelists that no matter what is happening at the federal level, the state of Washington needs to keep making progress with its own efforts to improve health care for Washingtonians. Among the areas of progress mentioned by several speakers was the Medicaid transformation waiver (just approved by CMS) that will better integrate physical and behavioral health care for the Medicaid population, reducing opioid addiction, and improving access to mental health care through better funding and a shift toward community-based care.
  1. Health care stakeholder groups need to speak up during this period of change. Several speakers—particularly Gov. Jay Inslee—exhorted the audience to keep communicating publicly about the impact of the ACA on how they’re able to provide care to patients and the potential ramifications of any changes that are coming at the federal level. “I want people to realize we’re not powerless in this health care debate,” Inslee said. “We all need to exercise our voice.”

If you’d like to view some of the conference for yourself, State of Reform has posted video on its website from the three keynote sessions:

Jim Capretta on “repeal and delay”

Leading healthcare organizations through a time of transition

Three Democratic governors discuss state health policy in a Trump administration