This month’s newsletter includes news about a new health education center focused on American Indian health, a conversation with AzHHA CEO Ann-Marie Alameddin, and coverage of the state’s updated Olmstead Plan.
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State of Reform
1. Arizona will soon have American Indian-focused health education center
The University of Arizona Health Sciences recently announced the creation of a health education center specifically focused on American Indian health issues. The center, which will be developed by the Arizona Advisory Council on Indian Health Care, is expected to be operational in a little over a year and will work to address health workforce shortages in tribal communities. It will be the 6th of such education centers in the state and the first to directly target AI health.
“What this allows us to do is tap into state resources, and I don’t think we’ve traditionally tapped into state resources. And I think it really provides us a seat at the table now when we talk about state policy,” said Kim Russell, Director of the AACIHC. “I’m excited about that because now we can be a part of state policy conversations.” The center aims to address the historical underrepresentation of the AI population in the health care workforce by bringing recently graduated AI health workers to practice in AI communities.
2. Q&A: AzHHA CEO Ann-Marie Alameddin provides update on hospitals and COVID
Following the COVID-19 BA.5 surge, community transmission levels and hospitalizations have started to decrease. Ann-Marie Alameddin, President and CEO of the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association, told us that Arizona hospitals’ biggest problems continue to be workforce shortages and financial strain as they prepare for COVID-19 to become an endemic disease in the state.
“I’m hopeful in improving over the next couple of years, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that we have issues today,” she said. “I think hospitals have been innovative in terms of doing teen nursing-type programs, and trying to upskill the nurses they have and really training nurses to be able to practice at a higher level. But [workforce] is a significant issue today … It’s
still issue number 1, 2, and 3 for hospitals.”
3. What They’re Watching: David Wetherelt, Briljent
David Wetherelt, Client Services Manager for Briljent, is focused on addressing the modular nature of different systems in health care. When different siloes, such as health data collection organizations and Medicaid Enterprise Systems, buy separate technologies for their operation, it can be challenging to connect these systems together in a way that benefits the patient. Training people in the health sector about coordination between these systems, he says, will also be something to focus on.
“We’re focused on thinking of ways to better educate either health care workers or community-based organizations on how to utilize some of these tools that are now all kind of coming back together,” Wetherelt said. “And another aspect of all that is that we’re trying to build community coalitions along those lines. So building out things with the community in mind as opposed to a single technology or a single vendor.”
4. Updated Olmstead Plan open for public comment
Arizona is currently accepting public comments for its updated Olmstead Plan, which outlines the ways in which the state plans to comply with a 1999 Supreme Court decision requiring states to sufficiently integrate individuals with serious mental illnesses into the community. This is the first time Arizona has updated its plan since 2003.
The 1999 ruling didn’t require states to develop strategic plans, but Arizona chose to do so “as an opportunity for advocates, agencies, members, and community stakeholders to work together on a guide to further improve access to services for individuals with disabilities and ensure they live and receive services in the most appropriate integrated setting in their community.” The plan’s strategies include implementing permanent supportive housing for SMI individuals to be able to live in the community, fortifying care coordination efforts to ensure these individuals continue receiving needed services upon discharge from hospital or correctional settings, and more. The public comment period ends on September 22nd.
5. Pharmacy advocates voice concern over Inflation Reduction Act
Some Arizona stakeholders believe the provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act to reduce prescription drug costs for Medicare beneficiaries are insufficient and could negatively impact drug innovation. Joan Koerber-Walker, President & CEO of the Arizona Bioindustry Association, believes that pharmacists will have to take on the burden of managing patients’ expectations about negotiated Medicare drug prices, which will not take effect until 2026 and will only be applied to select drugs.
Koerber-Walker said the act would hinder drug innovation in the state, as many investors are pausing investments in life science companies due to uncertainties about receiving a return on investment if the drugs the company is developing are put on the Medicare negotiated price list. “Those are the same large companies that the innovation ecosystem relies on to invest in the next big cure,” she said. “We just took roughly $100 million out of the innovation ecosystem over the next 10 years just on the pricing side. When you roll in the taxes and the other changes, now you’re talking maybe four times that.”