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Adapting to Change in the Political Landscape of State Government

January 13, 2011 2:00 pm Eastern Time

GIH Public Policy Audioconference Series

When: Thursday, January 13, 2011 at 2:00 p.m. Eastern / 1:00 p.m. Central / Noon Mountain / 11:00 a.m. Pacific 
Alan Weil, National Academy for State Health Policy
Billie Hall, Sunflower Foundation
Wendy Wolf, Maine Health Access Foundation 

Results of the recent election have significantly altered the political map for state governments. Sixteen state legislatures changed party control of one or both chambers and, of the 27 states with new governors, 17 have seen a party switch in the governor's office. This audioconference considered the implications of these political shifts for health policy and explored how health funders are responding to changes in the political landscape.

Alan Weil led the discussion by summarizing the magnitude and scope of the changes in the political landscape at both the federal and state levels. He described the implications of these changes for health policy in three broad areas (1) the increase in the number of states actively opposing reform implementation, (2) the increased likelihood that implementation, to the extent it does proceed, will reflect market-based, rather than regulatory, approaches, and (3) the significant number of policymakers, of both parties, with limited knowledge of and experience in health policy issues. He commented on the high level of uncertainty that surrounds reform implementation, ranging from continuing concerns about state budgets, diminished resources for implementation activities, on-going legal challenges, and pending federal regulatory standards.  Mr. Weil urged philanthropic organizations to reconsider funding investments in areas that have previously been viewed as core government activities, support advocacy efforts, and promote collaboration across states in order to reduce redundant analyses and problem-solving.

Billie Hall described the changes that have taken place in Kansas, sharing that the new governor just delivered his state of the state address, released a new budget, and has announced numerous new cabinet members and agency heads. Sunflower is still in the process of assessing the potential impact of these policies, but significant changes are likely given that 8 state agencies are slated for elimination, a consolidation of the Medicaid and public health agencies has been proposed, and additional modifications in the Medicaid program are anticipated. She noted continuity in leadership in the office of the insurance commission. Ms. Hall indicated that the Sunflower Foundation is evaluating its current strategies in light of expected policy shifts.

Wendy Wolf discussed the changes taking place in Maine, which saw a shift in party control of both the governor’s office and the state legislature. She stressed the need for foundations to assume a long-term strategic perspective and to avoid confusing election-related messaging with policy decision making. Ms. Wolf described long-standing efforts by MEHAF to support biennial educational seminars on health policy for new and returning legislators and emphasized the opportunities in offering credible, objective information.

During the interactive discussion, participants concurred with the need for funders to take a leadership role in identifying common ground on priority issues, such as addressing value and efficiency in health care services. Participants also discussed the need to assess new and existing partnerships in order to further philanthropic goals and to stay abreast of on-going policy deliberations at the state and federal level.  



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