HIMSS New England: State reps discuss local health reform initiatives
NORWOOD, Mass.–Representatives from six states of the New England region sat down to discuss state-driven initiatives of health IT at the fifth annual HIMSS New England Chapter Public Policy Forum Wednesday.

The panel, while focusing on individual regional efforts, shared a common goal to drive quality care for the public health. Depending on where a person is, they have a different target definition of “health” when discussing the subject, noted Ned Helms, director of the New Hampshire Institute for Health Policy and Practice. For his institute, health is defined as “a state of well-being and the capability to function in the face of changing circumstances.”

Therefore, according to Helms, “health is a positive concept that emphasizes social and personal resources as well as physical capabilities.” Helms went on to state that the responsibility of “health” has historically placed the concept of public health on one shoulder and the concept of personal care on the other. “We’ve got to integrate that,” said Helms.

To give more context, Helms noted that in the last century, life expectancy went up 30 years. “Twenty-five of those 30 years were the result of public health efforts, five from enhanced medical procedures,” Helms said.

Daniel K. Webster, Massachusetts state representative, discussed the pros and cons found with three years of the "Great Massachusetts Experiment” under the state’s belt. Due to the experiment, where Massachusetts set out to give health insurance to everyone it could to drive healthcare costs down, 98 percent of the state’s population is now insured through a variety of insurance products, or connectors, according to Webster.

Webster did state that the downside to this initiative is that the program doesn’t encourage competition to drive down healthcare cost among the entire industry.

The panelists stressed collaboration between states and within states concerning health IT. Although Connecticut is a relatively new player according to Warren Wollschlager, chief of the Office of Research and Development, Connecticut Department of Public Health, “[o]ne benefit is we have the opportunity to benchmark our sister states to learn from policy makers [for our regional exchange efforts].”

Representatives from both Maine, who put their application in Office of the National Coordiinator for Health IT, and Vermont discussed their plans for regional extension centers. Because the regional, individual state-driven initiatives were similar in scope yet differing in means, a discussion of the role of states in healthcare reform was sparked in a question and answer session after the presentations.

“The role of state government is critical as an agent of change,” said Craig Jones, MD, director, Vermont Blueprint for Health. According to Jones, because state governors can bring people together on issues, state implementation and consensus building is key in pushing forward health reform.