The Yale School of Management and Yale’s health professional schools held the 14th annual Yale Healthcare Conference on Friday, bringing together about 500 students and professionals to discuss current issues in health care access.
Centered on the theme of “Improving Healthcare Access: Benefits and Solutions for Business and Society,” the conference featured 52 speakers, including local and national leaders in health policy. The event’s two keynote speakers were Peter Lee, the executive director of California’s health insurance marketplace Covered California, and Marna Borgstrom, the CEO of Yale New Haven Health.
“This year’s conference theme is mission-driven,” said Avi Tutman SOM ’18 SPH ’18, co-chair of the student committee organizing the event. “We want this conference to lead to more than just conversation — we want it to lead to action on the part of the students and the professionals to improve health care access.”
After opening remarks from Dean of the School of Public Health Sten Vermund, Lee spoke about his work at Covered California to develop a successful health insurance marketplace in the state.
According to Lee, by placing importance on marketing and developing ways to reduce out-of-pocket costs, California has approached near universal coverage, with a 3.4 percent eligible uninsured rate.
Lee ended with a discussion of health care looking forward to 2019. Unfortunately, he noted, the removal of an Obama-era penalty for not having health care, in conjunction with lowered marketing, may lead to insurance premium increases of 12 to 32 percent nationally.
Attendees were assigned to morning and afternoon breakout sessions, which consisted of panels of smaller groups that covered topics from pharmaceutical pricing to the health care of aging populations. The panels demonstrated the diversity of the conference on a micro-scale, featuring professors and students from academic institutions and professionals from both the public and private sectors.
Attendees lauded the diversity of perspectives on health care represented at the conference.
“At the School of Nursing, I feel like we’re kind of siloed sometimes, so I like to branch out to the greater University to see what’s offered,” said attendee Kate Dzurilla NUR ’18. “I’m also interested in learning the language of business and health care beyond the provider’s standpoint.”
Jillian Anderson SOM ’18 said she appreciated the mix of practitioners, business executives and health system leaders at the conference — as well as the geographic diversity of the speakers. She added that many of these stakeholders often do not come together for conversations.
“I think getting all of those people in a room, who all have very different realities, is really helpful to expand your understanding of what we need to do to make change,” Anderson said.
In the afternoon, the event held an executive panel composed of three speakers: Kate McEvoy, director of health services at the Department of Social Services in Connecticut; Eric Schultz, the CEO and president of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care; and Lee, who spoke for a second time.
Bob Galvin, the CEO of Blackstone Group subsidiary Equity Healthcare, moderated the panel and posed questions to the speakers about how to expand access to health care. McEvoy, Schultz and Lee all agreed that the greatest barriers to health care access are transportation, equitable specialty drugs, good primary care and mental health services.
“Often, attendees of these conferences focus on who’s at the conference, and, while that is important, we really want people to also think about who’s not at the conference and who’s not within their clinic walls, who they don’t see in the hospital and who they don’t see as their neighbors,” said Vivian Nguyen SOM ’19 SPH ’19, co-chair of the student committee.
Borgstrom gave the closing keynote address, speaking about the challenges surrounding affordable health care and the importance of patient care and safety.
“Everything that I’ve talked about today is about paying for what we want to achieve at a cost that we can really achieve. That, at its core, is value,” she said. “We need a tighter connection between state and federal funding decisions and what we really want to achieve out of health care.”
Borgstrom was also presented with the John D. Thompson Distinguished Visiting Fellow Award, which honors the memory of John Thompson, a former professor at Yale’s schools of Public Health, Medicine and Nursing. The fellowship selects a leaders in health administration to come to the University to share their experiences with students and discuss emerging challenges in health administration.
“There’s often this tension between margin and mission, and our take is that those things don’t have to be mutually exclusive,” Nguyen said. “You can actually achieve both in a health care context, and you can do so to serve some of the most underserved populations in order to give a voice to those who don’t have voices in our health care communities today.”
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Editor’s note: Due to an editing error, a previous version of the article incorrectly stated Vivian Nguyen’s degree as SOM ’19. In fact, she is SOM ’19 SPH ’19.