Many changes are ahead for our health care system, but Colorado is well-positioned to navigate them, especially because we have such great health care minds leading the way. At CCMU, we make it our personal mission to learn as much as we can from these extraordinary thinkers. One of these is Joan Henneberry, and I had the opportunity to sit down with her recently.
Joan was at the helm for several past reform implementation efforts in Colorado. One of these was CHP+, which allowed the state to provide affordable coverage for children whose family incomes were too high to qualify for Medicaid but too low to be able to afford private insurance. Another was the hospital provider fee, a bill which made it possible to expand Medicaid for those whose needs the current safety net did not meet. These and other examples were incredible milestones in our march toward a better health care system, and so as we approach 2014 and beyond, I thought I would turn to an expert for advice on the months ahead.
As she shared her history of health care reform with me, it was clear that the reason Joan has been such a great leader is because, like a great general contractor, she had a clear vision of the goal, the right tools and team for the job, and kept a close eye on the day-to-day progress. These lessons really resonated with me, and I hope we keep them in mind as we move toward the landmark moments ahead.
The first of the lessons she shared was the importance of having a leader with clear priorities and vision—something she saw in her former boss, Colorado’s Governor Bill Ritter, who had defined his health agenda in his Building Blocks of Health Reform. Major construction projects need an architect; someone who can see the potential and illustrate it for everyone else. Joan said that many reforms we have today would have been harder to accomplish without his clear vision: “He had no confusion about how health care really factored into his administration.”
Joan also emphasized that reform is a team effort, that everyone has an important role, and that when the dust settles, you can see just how far you’ve come. She said, “Health care reform is messy. But we’re taking it on. We should be proud of how far we’ve come and all the amazing people we have along with us, such as the advocates, the legislative champions, planners, and implementers. All of these people and all of our efforts together have really put us ahead of the country.” Furthermore, she noted that acknowledging the progress we make helps keep us motivated: “We should be celebrating that we have this incredible opportunity to make real change.” Although the increasingly political environment makes change more difficult, with a strong team and our solid set of tools, we can continue to make progress.
The last of Joan’s lessons was to be mindful as we put all our efforts into implementation, so that we don’t end up with something we’re unsatisfied with. We should continue asking big picture questions: Are we getting closer to getting people covered? Is that coverage high-quality? Are people able to understand information enough to choose wisely, or are they defaulting because it’s too overwhelming? Are we actually able to prevent the preventable (e.g. bankruptcies, chronic conditions, etc.)? Keeping a close eye on the process will ensure our direction is the right one. If we need to make a change to the blueprint, we’ll be able to do so more easily than if we get too far into construction.
Any remodel is a big job, but the remodel of Colorado’s health care system is particularly daunting. However, if we heed Joan’s wise words, I’m confident that we can accomplish whatever we envision.