WASHINGTON, D.C.—Former Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said at an event here that the healthcare industry is both "complex and simple," and looking at the system from both perspective is key to successful reform.
Reforming the healthcare system requires complicated regulations and approaches that are grounded in the simple reality that we all need to be able to use it, she said.
"We all count on this system to care for us and our loved ones," Burwell said.
Burwell, who is now the president of American University, was among a slate of speakers at the two-day Next Steps in Health Reform conference at AU. She reflected on her time at HHS and offered ways to continue reforms that were kickstarted under the Affordable Care Act.
At HHS, Burwell and her staff worked to identify where the healthcare system was already succeeding, and where there were opportunities for improvement. Affordability of care is "intricately tied" to insurance coverage, so it's key to continue the ACA's coverage expansions.
Expanding insurance coverage is "a matter of will—not strategy." It requires a strong push to get the word out, especially in underserved areas where people need information about insurance the most.
She said that it was encouraging that Congress is making strides toward a bipartisan approach to stabilize the individual markets in the short term while more long-term solutions are explored.
Daniel J. Hilferty, CEO of Independence Blue Cross, also spoke at the conference, and he also praised the bipartisan steps taken in the Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, led by Senators Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash.
"Healthcare is not a Democrat issue or a Republican issue, it's an American issue," Hilferty said.
Hilferty said he's a Republican, but he still thinks the steps toward health reform under the Obama administration underscored the value in partnership between public and private sectors to improve healthcare.
Healthcare is best delivered at the state and local level, with federal support and guidance, according to Hilferty, so a bipartisan perspective is necessary to hit the "right targets."
In addition to continuing to reduce the number of uninsured people, Burwell also said it's imperative that groups like the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation keep testing new payment models and programs to reach the goals of increased access, higher quality care and lower costs.
Hilferty said that even if the work done on alternative payment models gets rolled back, payers have already stepped in and embraced the transformation from volume to value.
"The insurance industry has made the quest for value our own," he said.
Continued collaboration between payers and providers is essential to this onging change, Hilferty said.
Burwell added that continued quality and cost improvements will require a behavioral change within both insurers and providers, which is why changes in those areas likely lag behind compared to improvements in coverage access.
"Behavior is the hardest thing to change," Burwell said. "And often the last."