AHA16: Leaders must navigate politics, embrace change

WASHINGTON, DC--With a healthcare industry striving to reinvent itself and the country in the midst of an election "unlike any in recent history," hospital leaders must embrace change to solidify their institutions' vital roles in their communities, leaders said Monday at the American Hospital Association's annual meeting in the District of Columbia.

AHA President Rick Pollack, pictured, emphasized healthcare leaders' role in advocating for patients as well as the AHA's desire to stay above the fray of divisive national politics.

"All of us have to have the ability to see change as opportunity and to act on it if we are to be successful," he said, adding, "we are less interested in moving left or right as we are in moving forward."

AHA members must help redefine the hospital by responding to two major forces shaping the healthcare industry, Pollack said: Demand for chronic care management and the rise of consumerism.

Patients with chronic conditions represent a major opportunity for cost savings, as they account for 84 percent of healthcare spending across all settings, he said. And costs also factor heavily into the reality of consumerism.

"We face a world in which patients have more of a stake in financing their care," he said. Not only do today's consumers not want to wait for anything, he added, but they are looking for both value and convenience.

Universal healthcare goals, challenges

To meet these challenges, some hospitals focus on population health initiatives, while others "focus exclusively on the very important care that takes place in our buildings," Pollack said.

But regardless of the approach individual institutions take, all providers share the need to work toward key goals such as universal health insurance coverage, solutions for the opioid crisis, the integration of mental and behavioral healthcare services, and support for vigorous antitrust review of the pending health insurer mergers.

Pollack also had strong words for an issue that's top of mind for patients, providers and even payers: what he deemed "arbitrary, unfair and outrageous" drug prices that he said are the result of "market manipulation."

However, the industry must do more than simply express outrage about drug prices, according to AHA Executive Vice President of Government Relations and Public Policy Tom Nickels. "Public shaming has been the approach so far," he said. "We need to take it to the next step."

Healthcare policies and politics

In terms of what to expect from Capitol Hill's approach to healthcare policy, Nickels noted that the 2016 election has had the effect of "freezing things in place" and led many to plan instead for 2017. To that end, he expects a largely predictable set of healthcare policies from Hillary Clinton, but said it will be "fascinating" to watch the policy positions championed by Donald Trump, whom he sees as having more moderate ideas than some of his GOP competitors.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, meanwhile, is likely to spend a lot of time on healthcare--particularly in the realm of Affordable Care Act and entitlement reform--when setting his legislative agenda, according to Nickels.

The focus on 2017 doesn't, however, mean that hospital leaders are not able to effect change in the shorter term, Nickels said, pointing out that the AHA recently executed a successful bipartisan and bicameral lobbying effort to get federal health officials to delay the release of their latest hospital star ratings.

What's more, healthcare professionals have taken a leading role in eliminating healthcare disparities through the AHA's campaign for healthcare equity, according to the Urban League CEO Marc Morial.

Indeed, the healthcare disparities gap continues to narrow, he said, but he challenged healthcare leaders to go even further.

"This requires new thinking and a collaborative approach," he said, which means looking beyond the walls of the hospital toward partnerships with community organizations.

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