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Created

November 30, 2011

MD State Leaders Drive Awareness, Advocacy, and Economic Development with Health IT

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I was recently invited to participate on a roundtable panel of thought leaders from government, business, and academia at the 2011 Annual Conference in Annapolis, hosted by the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus. Collectively, we explored a broad range of topics related to industries that are driving the state’s economy, namely biotech, cyber security, information technology, and healthcare. We agreed that these industries all intersect, in one way or another, as Maryland implements components of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), also known as Health Reform.

A primary goal of health reform is to improve overall status and quality of care by achieving health equity and eliminating disparities, particularly in the African American community.

Designed to reduce the estimated $60 billion spent annually on direct health care expenditures, in part due to existing disparities, PPACA aims to make health services more affordable and accessible for millions of Americans. However, successful implementation will require important tactical considerations, including educational outreach and local economic infrastructure, which are often muted by theoretical partisan debate.

In order for any government program to deliver valuable services, citizens must first know that they exist and understand the relative value. For example, as a result of PPACA, commercial health plans now cover many immunization and preventive services without charging a deductible, co-pay, or co-insurance. Included are wellness services like screenings for cardiovascular disease, cervical cancer, colorectal cancer, diabetes, and more.

Additionally, the national Medicare “donut hole” shrank last year by an average of 40% for elderly and disabled citizens. The donut hole refers to a gap in benefits coverage where seniors incur substantial costs as they pay for prescription medications 100% out-of-pocket after standard Medicare drug benefits have been exhausted, but before catastrophic coverage kicks in. By 2020, in accordance with the PPACA, the Medicare “donut hole” gap will be completely phased out.

To raise awareness of these and other benefits, I proposed that state leaders employ innovative resources, like social media and other dynamic online forums, in conjunction with conventional methods, like town hall meetings such as those at the conference, to spread the word. These same tactics, along with powerful data analytics, should be deployed to measure the effectiveness of other program components as well.

Advocacy also plays a big part in health reform, particularly as it relates to the rate of community adoption during implementation. Navigators, or certified individuals who provide health benefits education, will play a critical role in assisting underserved populations with enrollment in qualified plans and escalation of grievances. To that end, health IT solutions like Health Insurance Exchanges (HIX) that improve access for citizens must also include provisions for navigators to securely act on behalf of authenticated applicants in the exchange.

Among the invited attendees at the conference were select college students who were concerned about employment prospects as they prepare to enter the state’s workforce, as well as other constituents interested in the local economic aspects of health reform and other state initiatives. Christian Johansson, Secretary of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, was on hand to review the state’s strategic plans to facilitate job creation and empowerment by driving sustainability in high growth industries like healthcare and IT.

Overall, the annual conference was an overwhelming success as it accomplished the simple but powerful goal of its organizers to increase engagement, dialogue, and meaningful interactions between the state’s business leaders, policy makers and the people they serve. I was proud to represent Adobe there and I look forward to similar opportunities in the future.