Editor’s note: This is the second post from the Nashville Health Care Council’s 2018 Leadership Health Care Delegation to Washington. Click here for more content.
Leadership Health Care concluded its annual delegation to Washington, D.C., on Tuesday with a half-day of sessions focused on conversations with elected officials and their staffs.
The day opened with a wide-ranging conversation between Nashville Health Care Council President Hayley Hovious and Congressman Jim Cooper. Cooper discussed the state of Washington and the White House, upcoming elections in Tennessee and what makes him feel optimistic for the future.
“Overall, things are not as bad as it looks. But remember how bad it looks,” he joked about the current political climate and the Trump administration. “What we’re seeing is the greatest dysfunction we’ve seen in a modern White House. But when the cameras are off, most people are trying to correct for that.”
He also urged delegates to vote in every upcoming election, to urge their friends and families to do the same and to even consider running for office themselves. Tennessee, he noted, has the worst voter turnout in the nation — with the 2015 Nashville mayoral race drawing fewer voters than the 1971 mayoral race, when the city was two-thirds its size today.
“Don’t be left out,” Cooper said. “Participate in the primaries, pick the better candidates and you’ll be more satisfied with the finalist choices.”
Congressman Marsha Blackburn, who is running for the senate seat currently held by Sen. Bob Corker, spoke to delegates about what she thinks are some of the most prevalent health care issues in Tennessee, including the cost of health insurance and access to care in rural communities given that the Volunteer state ranks second for rural hospital closures. She also highlighted her work on the Sensible Oversight for Technology which Advances Regulatory Efficiency (SOFTWARE) Act, which is intended to help bring certain health IT innovations to market faster.
Delegates also heard from a panel of key congressional staff members, including health policy leads for the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee and the health policy director for Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), on health care policies that are in various stages of development and consideration. Among them are a bipartisan compromise on fixes to the Affordable Care Act and work to address the opioid crisis.
A separate panel focused exclusively on opioids, which claimed nearly 1,200 lives in Tennessee in 2016 according to the Tennessee Department of Health. Wilson Compton, deputy director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, was joined by Brett Meeks, counsel for the Senate HELP Committee; Gregory Marotta, president and CEO of CleanSlate Centers; and Kathryn Phillips, general counsel and secretary of American Addiction Centers. The group addressed everything from supply/demand challenges and preventing children from accessing opioids to better serving rural communities and using technology and data exchange to tackle the crisis.
“We have to stop looking for a scapegoat. Many states are suing the pharmaceutical industry and companies associated with Oxycontin. That is a path to take. But it’s multifactorial,” Marotta said. “It’s a societal issue, and we really have to embrace and recognize we’re all part of the problem and we can be part of the solution going forward.”
“It’s easier from a congressional perspective to throw money, it’s harder to maintain oversight and make sure it’s performing correctly,” Meeks said. “There’s talk about funding formulas. In the technology space, there’s talk about how do you appropriately incentivize states to share data and what data. Those are some of the questions we’re working through.”
During her comments, Blackburn said to expect legislation that mandates a three-day limit on prescribing opioids — with carve-outs for hospice and cancer care — that also may limit who can prescribe Schedule II drugs and will provide specific funding for training law enforcement officials to administer naloxone, among other measures.