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Yale’s Solomon Center for Health Law and Policy and the University of Pennsylvania’s Healthcare Transformation Institute co-hosted a healthcare conference examining the Affordable Care Act last week.

The two-day conference featured four panels, which examined the goals of healthcare reform, the impact of the ACA, the future of healthcare care and the politics of enactment. Professors and attendees discussed the implementation of ACA, as well as the policy’s successful and failed applications. The conference also came months before the release of a book on March 23, 2020 —  co-authored by conference speakers and others — that offers various viewpoints on the ACA.

Keynote speakers included former Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius as well as former Chicago Mayor, U.S. Representative and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel — whose brother Ezekiel Emanuel, chair of medical ethics at UPenn, also spoke at the conference. As healthcare remains an important issue for voters in the 2020 election, attendees and speakers alike collaborated in the conference, drawing on the past to evaluate future healthcare reform.

“The ACA was largely a missed opportunity to reform drug pricing,” said Washington University’s law professor Rachel Sachs. “While it made some changes, the ACA contained ‘no broad reforms’ to drug pricing.”

In addition to the persistence of high drug prices, participants discussed other ACA shortcomings, such as uninsured rate disparities according to race and ethnicity, Harvard University’s health policy and economics professor Benjamin Sommers said.

Still, speakers also acknowledged the positive legacies of the ACA recognized individuals who made its passage possible.

“The verdict is not in, but what we think is clear from the literature is a historic drop in people without insurance and an improvement in the most important metrics likely to benefit health outcomes in the future,” Sommers said.

In the final panel of the conference, titled the “Future of Health Care,” scholars reflected and proposed areas for improvement in healthcare policy.

Sachs discussed ways to build bipartisan support for healthcare and brought up the possibility of capping patient out-of-pocket costs for drugs in Medicare Part D — the prescription drug benefit program.

Others, such as University of Michigan’s law professor Nicholas Bagley, voiced concerns about the current presidential administration’s efforts to destabilize healthcare reform and compel Congress to repeal the ACA.

In interviews with the News, attendees appreciated the breadth and depth of the topics covered at the conference.

“Coming to this conference really informed me on the implications of the Affordable Care Act,” Paul Manzi, who is a student at the University of New Haven. “I found it really interesting in the third panel how small tweaks to payment structure really impacts doctors and patients as a whole.”

Still, other attendees said they enjoyed the interdisciplinary and welcoming nature of the conference.

“I like that it was cross-disciplinary — with legal, medical, policy, political and historical components,” said Peter Hadler ’99, who worked on ACA policy at the Connecticut Department of Social Services. “It was a nice overview of where we started and where we are today.”

The conference was organized by Ezekiel Emanuel and Yale Law School professor and Founding Director of the Solomon Center Abbe Gluck.

Samuel Turner | samuel.turner@yale.edu