Alliance for Health Policy Summit on Aging in America 10/10/19

The Alliance for Health Policy, a non-partisan organization dedicated to advancing knowledge and understanding of health policy issues, held a Summit on Aging in America on Wednesday, October 10th, 2018. I attended the keynote speech and the first panel discussing the drivers of health for older adults. In the audience, I sat among physicians, representatives from healthcare companies, founders of non-profit organizations, government delegates, and many others.

Dr. Preeti N. Malani, director of the National Poll on Healthy Aging and Chief Health Officer at the University of Michigan, delivered the keynote speech. Dr. Malani delved into the crux of why healthy aging matters and how families, healthcare systems, and providers will be affected by the growing numbers of older adults in the next decade. From a monetary and social standpoint, Dr. Malani analyzed the number of resources, amount of care received, cost, and expenditures that older adults require and the importance of preparing the current healthcare infrastructure to support these needs.

The speakers of the panel focused on the importance of community-based models of care, support, and services. As stressed by the speakers, the route to health is not simply medical; it incorporates the social environment surrounding an individual such as housing, nutrition, transportation, and safety. An organization that is working to bridge the divide between these social determinants and access to care is Chenmed, which consists of primary-care medical centers for seniors. Jason Barker, Regional Market President of Chenmed, described the company’s use of concierge style medicine to treat a small number of patients with frequent visits and attention to their patient’s issues of transportation, access to pharmacies, and cost of medication. Lucy Theilheimer, Chief Strategy and Impact Officer of Meals on Wheels America, further stressed the notion that opportunities to address these social determinants of health lay in building bridges between clinical and non-clinical providers. Enthusiastically, Theilheimer deconstructed misconceptions about the efficacy community-based organizations and highlighted that these organizations are in fact savvy businesses with knowledge of the financing world. Their potential to enact change in the health infrastructure of long term care should not be undermined.

In regards to investments, the speakers also addressed innovative payment models that integrate the social needs of older adults. Dr. Yael Harris, Vice President of Research and Evaluation at the American Institutes for Research, mentioned the decreasing number of federal investments in social services over time and the implication this may have as the population ages. Melanie Bella, Chief of New Business and Policy at City Block Health, spoke about how her organization partners with community-based organizations and helps them build their network. Bella noted that City Block Health takes financial risks that allows for them to address individual needs in a way that cannot be done in fee-for-service models. Lucy Theilheimer of Meals on Wheels also mentioned that value-based care is a viable solution to improving the efficiency and effectiveness of healthcare delivery to low-income older adults.

An intriguing question was brought up from an audience member about the possibility of creating a public non-profit system from which to address social determinants of health in a community that bypasses the medical system or managed health care companies. The speakers did not view this as a viable alternative due to insufficient funding for public health by the federal government. They argued that until sustainable federal funding is allocated for this issue, providers, managed health care companies, and the medical system are the only ones that will step up to the plate.

I look forward to the next opportunity to engage in discussion on the important issue of aging in America. Here is a link to a recording of the summit as well as distributed materials.

-Guadalupe Suarez, Intern