National Conference of State Legislatures Annual Conference

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to represent HIMSS at the National Conference of State Legislatures Legislative Summit held in Atlanta, Ga. Aug. 11-15.  During those five days, I met t with Republican and Democratic legislators and their staff as we discussed America’s toughest issues. Many of the attendees are friends from across the country, and over the years, I have been able to share the HIMSS story with them.

Before the opening of the NCSL conference, I had the chance to participate in the 2013 Health Summit, Emerging Changes in Medicaid & the Insurance Marketplace. You can imagine many of the discussions held during the Health Summit in both the formal sessions as well as in private conversations.  During many of these chats, we spoke of the American healthcare landscape and how it’s shifting in dramatic fashion from health reform and state activities.  Discussion centered around the new health exchanges that are scheduled to be operational on Oct. 1..  As a result, the nation’s insurance marketplace will have new options and regulations.  Medicaid programs face state decisions and federal guidance on expansion options and other alternatives.  I also  listened to speakers and HIMSS friends, such as New Jersey Assemblyman Herb Conaway, Rhode Island State Representative Brian Patrick Kennedy, and Alabama State Representative Greg Wren, discuss the new marketplaces  and their respective state’s responses to the fast-paced countdown toward the Jan. 1, 2014 implementation deadline for the Health Insurance Marketplaces.

On Aug. 12, Kathleen Sebelius, former legislator, governor and insurance commissioner from Kansas and current secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, closed the Health Summit with an update on the final stages of bringing the health insurance marketplaces to life and ongoing efforts to work with states on implementation issues, including Medicaid expansion and the SHOP marketplaces – or the Small Business Health Options Program.

The rest of the week was also busy attending sessions that addressed health issues, such as Building a Lasting Health System in Rural America and Taming Health Costs: New Solutions, New Challenges. In total,  seventeen different sessions  addressed some of the health challenges that our country is facing.

On Thursday, the last day of the Summit, I attended the NCSL business meeting where legislators and legislative staff considered:

  • Policy directives and resolutions that will guide NCSL’s advocacy efforts before the Congress and the administration;
  • Amendments to the bylaws and the rules of procedures;
  • Election of NCSL officers; and
  • Approval of the conference budget.

During the business session, the Memorial Resolution supporting National Health IT Week passed unanimously.  Wording in the resolution included:

“The National Conference of State Legislatures has worked closely with HIMSS and other stakeholder organizations to promote understanding among state policymakers of the contribution of health IT to improve the quality and safety of healthcare delivery and containing healthcare costs…

“National Health IT Week presents an opportunity for NCSL and other stakeholders to recognize the value of information technology and management systems to transform the United States healthcare system, improving the quality and cost efficiency for all Americans.

“NCSL encourages its members to observe ‘National Health IT Week 2013’ in appropriate ways in their respective state capitals as well as in the Nation’s Capital. NCSL also encourages its members to urge their respective delegations to the United States Congress to join in recognizing the benefits of health information technology as they act to improve health care for all citizens during National Health Information Technology Week.”

On the flight home, I reflected on an article I had read about Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis and his description of state legislatures as “laboratories of democracy” that were willing to tackle new and innovative approaches in meeting the needs of society.

Today, with the debates that are taking place in the U. S. House of Representatives and the U. S. Senate, it is easy to get the impression that many of our Federal representatives are not capable of compromising on the important issues of the day such as health care reform, tax reform, and immigration policies.  I am not convinced the majority of our Federal representatives work as hard as state legislators do as they seek solutions to the nation’s multitude of social and economic problems.

The public’s perception of the US Congress is placing a new focus on state legislators, who for so long were regarded as poor cousins to their national counterparts in Washington. During my time in Atlanta listening to the debates and discussions on many of the current policy issues with state legislators and their staffers, I was reminded of why our system of separate state governments is the best in the world.

About Thomas S. Keefe, MA, CAHIMS, FHIMSS

Thomas S. Keefe, MA, CAHIMS, FHIMSS , is HIMSS Senior Director, State Government Affairs, Technology Solutions.
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