Crain’s Health Pulse Interview: “New UHF President Sets Policy Agenda Amid D.C.’s Ever-Changing Health Care Landscape”
Since Dr. Anthony Shih left the New York Academy of Medicine to become president of the United Hospital Fund in August, there has been a nonstop barrage of proposals from Washington, D.C., that could threaten federal funding and support for key health care programs.
But Shih said he is striving to stay focused on crafting an agenda for UHF that's based on more than the headlines. His first step: speaking to stakeholders to develop a list of 10 major trends that could inform UHF's work in health policy research and programming.
Shih’s trends to watch are the aging population, the growth of U.S. health care costs at a faster rate than the gross domestic product, advances in genomics and personalized medicine, progress in the adoption of health information technology, the potential slowing of the move toward value-based payments, the interest in population health, the opioid epidemic and other changes in disease burden, the re-organization of health care markets, the shift from inpatient to outpatient care and the growth in consumer-oriented technology like the Fitbit.
Shih spoke with Crain’s reporter Caroline Lewis to discuss how he is shaping UHF’s agenda and the role politics will play in the organization's work.
To what extent will federal policy shape UHF’s work moving forward?
We’re focused on how policy proposals impact New York. And there are issues unique to New York. For instance, because we have the Essential Plan, the cost-sharing reduction payments affect us in a different way than states without it. Our intent is not to duplicate some of these federally focused health policy think tanks.
What areas of health policy will UHF focus on in the near future?
We’re focusing on three primary issues. The first is a continued focus on coverage and access. Even before the current administration came in, there were over a million people in New York that remained uninsured despite aggressive Medicaid expansion.
Second, we’re doubling down on our work on quality. That’s an issue that's very amenable to an independent entity convening and working with different players. The third major issue—and it’s a growing one—is how the health system interacts with the community and community-based organizations to improve overall health. Over the past few years, there’s been increasing acceptance that major drivers of health are outside the clinical care system. Right now everybody says it’s great for the clinical-care system to work with community-based organizations, but nobody knows how to best establish those partnerships. We’re getting down into the weeds and looking at specific partnership activities.
Is UHF benefiting from the current prominence of health care policy discussions?
I do think people are realizing it’s important to have independent voices on health care. We’re working on increasing support from new sources that are beginning to recognize the value of what we do.
What does UHF think about the viability of a single-payer system?
What we’re doing is looking at the political and social landscape and seeing whether or not there’s a path forward for single payer in New York. But I think it’s probably less useful to focus on the mechanism [for obtaining universal coverage], like single payer or all payer or the expansion of Obamacare, and better to focus on the goal.
United Hospital Fund believes everyone should have health insurance. Whether or not single payer is the best way to get there is unclear...I think every health system has its benefits and its drawbacks, and so I’m more wary of glomming on to a single thing as a solver of all problems.