Posted on March 22, 2016

Susan Dentzer Starts as NEHI President and CEO

Susan shares her thoughts about NEHI, membership and what she's excited to start working on.

Susan Dentzer, expert in health policy and veteran journalist, starts as the new President and CEO of NEHI.

susanWe asked Susan what she’s most excited about and how she’ll be working with our membership.

What is it about NEHI that attracted you to become the new President and CEO?

Susan Dentzer: The world of health and health care in the United States is made up of all the organizations represented in the NEHI membership, and more. The genius of NEHI has been drawing on the strength of the membership across all sectors, and looking for areas where there is broad agreement that there should be change and innovation. If health systems, health insurers and other payers, pharmaceutical and biotech companies, and even patient groups agree that there needs to be change or a set of changes that creates a powerful set of forces to bring to bear on devising strategies for change and then putting them in place.  NEHI offers the opportunity to help foster change that that can improve human health, improve health care, and lead to more sustainable health care spending – all the goals of the Triple Aim.

Are there any specific policy issues you’re looking forward to addressing with the cross-sector NEHI membership?

SD: Three in particular come to mind.

  1. Pharmaceutical pricing: We know that there are steep new prices now on old drugs, and there are steep new prices now on new, so-called specialty drugs. And often these are high prices on very effective medications. Take the relatively new hepatitis C drugs, which are cures.

    How we’re going to be able to sustain these costs is a serious issue. A lot of hopes are being pinned on so-called value-based reimbursement or risk sharing agreements between pharmaceutical companies and payers, and now even the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have proposed to test such arrangements for drugs covered under Part B of Medicare.  I believe that NEHI with its broad membership could play a leading role in advancing understanding of these arrangements.
  1. Advancing and preserving overall health: It’s been obvious for years that we have built a very effective “sick care” system, but as a nation, we have an inadequate health-advancing and health- preserving system – or, to be honest, no real system organized to do that at all.  And now we see rising premature death rates in a notable share of the population, and widening gaps in life expectancy, particularly along income lines. We need big changes in various social policies to address these trends, but in the meantime, $3 trillion-plus of our national resources is steered to the health care system.   So we have to figure out how to use those resources as best as possible to at least build bridges from the health care system to other sectors that are also working, directly or indirectly, to improve population health. For the sickest people 5 percent of individuals who account for 50 percent of national health spending, we must in particular address their social needs, such as for housing and healthful food, if we’re to have any hope of keeping them healthier and restraining the growth of health spending.
  1. Intelligent use of health data and information: A third area in which NEHI could make a contribution is fostering intelligent use of health data and information amid adequate protection of privacy and security.  Although there are state and federal laws governing use of so-called protected health information, huge amounts of health-related data are also being collected outside this legal construct, raising real questions about privacy, security, and ownership of data.  Finally, cybersecurity in health care needs more attention than ever in an age of networked medical devices and the “Internet of Medical Things.”  NEHI could be a force in helping to surface key issues, as well as in developing astute policy that will enable progress.

What can the NEHI Membership expect from you in your new role? 

The NEHI membership can expect a lot of energy, commitment, and engagement, from me as NEHI’s president and CEO, but also from the entire NEHI team.   We want to tap into this powerful brain trust to understand better what is really happening on the ground in health and health care, what innovations are playing out internally within organizations, and what needs to happen to achieve the Triple Aim. And we want to build out the membership to bring in more organizations that are playing an increasingly important role in transforming health care, most notably through information technology. So today’s members can expect us to build an even broader brain trust to foster ideas and road maps for innovation.

What makes you passionate about advancing innovation in health care?

I am passionate about innovation in health and health care because it is vitally important that it continue and because there is so much potential for constructive change.  The United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 declared that “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.”  We haven’t fully delivered on that implicit promise as a nation, and innovation in how we advance health and deliver health care must play a role in getting us there. The Institute of Medicine’s 2001 report, Crossing the Quality Chasm, noted that U.S. health care was not sufficiently safe, effective, patient-centered, timely, efficient, or equitable, and although we have made some progress since then, most experts would agree that there has not been nearly enough change. The health and lives of hundreds of millions of Americans, and billions more worldwide, hang in the balance. 

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