Health Care

Tackling one Health Crisis at a Time

June 18, 2018  • Institute Staff

Launched in 2015, the Aspen Health Strategy Group—an initiative of the Institute’s Health, Medicine and Society Program—selects a single issue every year for in-depth study. Each issue reflects an urgent societal health challenge with clear opportunities to make a difference. The strategy group emerges from this intensive study process with a package of five transformative ideas. So far, it has explored end-of-life care and the opioid crisis. Next, it will turn to chronic-disease prevention.

The Aspen Health Strategy Group is co-chaired by Kathleen Sebelius and Tommy Thompson, both former governors and former secretaries of the US Department of Health and Human Services. Alan Weil, the editor-in-chief of Health Affairs, directs the project. They are joined by two dozen CEOs and other leaders from industry, academia, health systems, and media. The group meets every June in Aspen for two days of conversation. Prior to each meeting, experts prepare a series of background papers that fully examine the selected topic. The end-of-life deliberations were informed, for example, by an exploration of ethical norms, and the opioid-epidemic studies looked at both health and legal solutions. An open invitation for breakthrough ideas also goes out to the public ahead of time. Armed with this knowledge, the Aspen Health Strategy Group identifies the best tactics to pursue. The five big ideas, and the papers that support them, are then published as bound, illustrated reports, which members distribute to policymakers, researchers, and the media, as well as to their own networks. The Institute also disseminates the findings. For example, the group presented its end-of-life report at a Health, Medicine and Society Program Public Health Grand Rounds event and at a symposium for the Society of Fellows.

The Aspen Health Strategy Group has also put its ideas into action, including in the home institutions of its members. For example, Judy Faulkner, the CEO of Epic Systems, one of the largest US electronic health record companies, incorporated the group’s end-of-life findings into Epic. Toby Cosgrove, the CEO of the Cleveland Clinic, promoted the end-of-life advance directives among his staff. The group’s opioid-epidemic report reached the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, and the BBC’s website featured the five big ideas on fixing the opioid crisis. And, though multiple factors drove CVS Health’s move to limit the dosage and duration of opioid prescriptions, that decision was reinforced by the participation of the company’s CEO, Larry Merlo, who is a member of the Aspen Health Strategy Group. Finally, planning is underway for an opioidstrategy collaboration between the Health, Medicine and Society Program and the National Academy of Medicine. By selecting chronic-disease prevention for its next topic, the Aspen Health Strategy Group is recognizing that messages about physical activity and nutrition haven’t been enough to change Americans’ behavior. Group members will look at the value of ambitious strategies like imposing taxes on soda and banning cartoons on certain junk-food packaging. The Aspen Health Strategy Group reports, Improving Care at the End of Life and Confronting Our Nation’s Opioid Crisis, are both available online.