Over the past year, I have had the privilege of serving as Vice-Chair of the Legislative Council for the National Association of Health Underwriters (NAHU). NAHU is one of the premier industry lobbying associations representing the legislative and regulatory interests of over 100,000 licensed health and welfare benefits professionals and the consumers they serve. As part of my duties as Vice-Chair, I had the privilege of organizing the 2020 Capitol Conference, which was held on February 24th and 25th in Washington, D.C. Capitol Conference is NAHU's largest annual lobbying event, and this year was no exception.
Over 700 benefits specialists descended on Capitol Hill to share our collective vision for ways to improve the health care experience of the clients we represent.
I thought it was necessary at such a critical junction in the story of the American health care system to use the Capitol Conference to promote an expanded definition of "health care reform," and the role our industry plays in cultivating health. Too often, when politicians discuss "health care reform" they tend to focus on limited variables like access to affordable health insurance, prescription drug pricing, and hospital transparency. Of course, these are incredibly important exigencies that must be addressed. Still, we all know that addressing these limited variables will fall short of delivering long-term sustainability to our system. Rarely, do politicians tread into the realm of driving a discussion about what variables drive unnecessary health service utilization in the first place, and how can those variables be addressed effectively? In other words, what drives health?
Well, we know that study after study overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that health outcomes are driven primarily by social and environmental determinants. Where we live, what we eat, our family and communal bonds, sense of purpose, ability to safely recreate, access to a good education, and our jobs and sense of financial well-being hold significantly more sway over our future health than our access to a given provider.
At a time when an estimated 60% of Americans are on course to battle a chronic disease, we must begin to shift the conversation away from merely focusing on who pays for and the price of a given service to focus on what's driving such high disease-rates in the first place. The true trajectory of our health is not dictated by the time spent in doctors’ offices, but by the decisions we make and the environment we live in every single day.
Presently, over 150 million Americans spend their days at work, and over 180 million Americans are insured in the employer-sponsored market. The opportunity that our industry has to influence the health of America is limitless. We have the privilege of meeting individuals at work where they spend the majority of their waking hours. By working with our employer clients, we have the ability to remove barriers standing in the way of individuals and families achieving maximum vitality that will not, and cannot, effectively be addressed by top-down legislation and regulation, but can be addressed by bottom-up, grassroots movements of our own making.
I always think about my personal experience with onsite nutrition counseling facilitated by my company a few years back. Before I met with the nutritionist for the first time, my doctor had been telling me I needed to lose weight. However, my doctor never took the time to explain how to lose weight or explore what was driving my weight gain in the first place. My company’s nutritionist asked me questions like, "are your friends on board with your weight loss? How will your goals conflict with their social expectations?" or "Do you know how to cook, or do you know how to shop for healthy foods?" The answers to these questions, among many others, held the key to identifying what was driving my weight gain in the first place and set me on a path to mitigate the impact negative determinants were having on achieving my goals. For me, this was real health care reform. I can honestly say my level of vitality has increased substantially since working with our nutritionists. What piece of federal legislation or regulation could be passed to address these root-causes? I am not sure they can, but I know our industry is striving to solve these problems one community, one employer, one person, one family at a time.
Therefore, if we achieved one mission at the 2020 Capitol Conference, it was providing Congress with a sense of the scope of the opportunity standing before our industry, and that they should do everything in their power to keep us in the game. With our industry's leadership, we will empower Americans to pursue health in every neighborhood, town, city, and state and build the conditions to preserve our great system.