In his keynote presentation at AMCP 2021, Chris Jennings, founder and president, Jennings Policy Strategies Inc., fielded questions from Ceci Connolly, president and CEO of Alliance of Community Health Plans.
As an appointee to the Biden–Sanders Unity Task Force, Mr. Jennings discussed important issues of health care policy in the first 100 days of the new administration and where things are headed in the future. Health care was the primary issue of the presidential election and continues to be during the COVID-19 pandemic. He described the country’s significant health needs, including socioeconomic and racial equality, lower drug prices, delivery, and coverage issues. The lone bright spot of the pandemic, Mr. Jennings added, was the burgeoning use of telehealth.
Regarding the health care provisions in Biden’s $2.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, Mr. Jennings said that addressing infrastructure challenges that were previously underfunded prior to the pandemic was an aspect of the plan that was particularly important. With millions of Americans living in poverty and without access to affordable health care, Mr. Jennings urged that it is a moral imperative, as well as an economic and health policy priority, to solve the problem. Issues of transportation, nutrition, housing, income, and education all contribute to the health status and the vulnerability of the population faced with the pandemic.
“Whether it’s directly from the health care delivery side of our health care system or the preventive, environmental determinants, or drivers of our health status, we’ve failed on almost every single front,” Mr. Jennings said.
He emphasized to the use of telehealth as a bright spot of the pandemic, and many Americans have made use of this technology. Although physicians themselves represent some of the greatest telehealth skeptics, some (particularly the younger generation of physicians) are big advocates.
“The benefits of this interface can be extraordinarily positive and can lead to conveniences and better outcome,” he said. “We need to find a way to break through the concerns that people have.”
The public remains frustrated with large aspects of the U.S. health care system, he said, and we are likely to see a battle against cost, coverage, and complexity from the Biden administration. Will that include drug pricing provisions, particularly in the next stimulus package?
“The Democrats now control the House, Senate, and White House,” he noted. “I don’t know if they have an excuse any longer. You can’t keep on saying this is what you are going to do and not do it.”
Mr. Jennings added that he does not foresee Medicare for all as something that will likely be happening, due to the lack of votes it needs to receive to pass.
“Let’s move on and get to the discussion about policies that are real and something that can be considered,” he said. “Early eligibility for Medicare at age 60 is something worth considering. There is a chance that could occur.”
Jennings C, Connolly C. The First 100 Days and Beyond: A Discussion on Health Care Policy with Chris Jennings. Presentation K9. Presented at AMCP 2021; April 12-16, 2021.