Aspen Institute Issues White Paper on ‘The Responsible Path to a Healthier Nation’

March 30, 2009

Noah Bartolucci
The Aspen Institute
Tel: 202-736-2536

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Calling for smart, sustainable improvements to the U.S. health care system, the Aspen Institute has published a white paper, titled “Health Stewardship: The Responsible Path to a Healthier Nation.”

The paper, available at, expands upon 10 bipartisan principles developed by the Aspen Health Stewardship Project to help guide reform efforts, and it encourages the principles’ adoption in federal policymaking, such as the upcoming health reform legislation currently being developed by Congress. Urging all stakeholders to embrace the concept of stewardship, the paper also asserts that Americans must value and manage the nation’s shared health resources in the same sense that they seek to be good stewards of the environment.

“Fixing our health care system is an urgent national priority, but we must have a clear roadmap to ensure that our improvements are impactful and sustainable,” said Dr. Michelle McMurry, project director. “Our principles and white paper were designed to help meet that need.”

“Health Stewardship: The Responsible Path to a Healthier Nation” asserts that “the time has come for America to realize that health is a national resource to foster and grow, or squander and lose.” It notes that with health care costs rising, the economy faltering, and the health status of Americans declining (i.e., rising rates of obesity and chronic diseases), it has never been more important to target the root causes of the nation’s broken health care system, as opposed to just its symptoms. In addition, the limits of reform without stewardship, the importance of pursing value through early health models, and government roles in stewardship are also discussed in depth.

The nation’s capacity to make significant improvements relatively quickly and to make broad, systemic improvements over a longer time horizon is a key takeaway message in the paper. It also addresses the roles of individuals, communities (including schools, local businesses, community organizations and municipal governments), providers, pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers, and health insurers and employers.

Aspen’s health stewardship principles include:

Access is not enough, which notes that access alone will not drive the improvements needed to increase safety, reduce waste and promote quality;

Value and quality in care are paramount, which speaks to the importance of efficiency and innovations that bring about better health for the money spent;

Health span, not life span, which shifts the focus from life expectancy to how long people live with the best possible health;

Turn information into insight, which calls for the nation to transition to electronic medical records, minimize barriers to innovation and use information more effectively to better understand disease and therefore to better treat it; and

Health in all policies, which calls for the analysis of all government policies to determine their “health footprint.”



In 2008, the Stewardship Project commissioned a national poll with Zogby International, which found that Americans agreed with and support the stewardship principles. For instance, consistent with the principles, 93 percent of those polled agreed that they were in charge of their own health, 91 percent agreed that how long they live a healthy life is more important than longevity, and 70 percent agreed the nation must strive for equity in health. A report of the poll findings is available at the project Web site.

“We look forward to working with federal policymakers to shift our flawed health care culture from its focus on treatment to instead place a greater emphasis on prevention, wellness and being a good steward of our own health,” said Mark Ganz, president and CEO of Regence BlueCross BlueShield, and one of the project co-chairs.

In concert with Aspen’s white paper, earlier this month the project also announced the launch of the Aspen Health Stewardship Coalition, a diverse and growing coalition of 17 organizations that includes patient groups, employers, nonprofit advocates and provider organizations. The coalition is a forum for the further exploration of the principles and a vehicle to encourage their adoption in the policymaking process. To view the video of the coalition launch, visit

The Aspen Institute, founded in 1950, is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering enlightened leadership and open-minded dialogue. Through seminars, policy programs, conferences and leadership development initiatives, the Institute and its international partners seek to promote nonpartisan inquiry and an appreciation for timeless values. The Institute is headquartered in Washington, D.C., and has campuses in Aspen, Colorado, and on the Wye River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Its international network includes partner Aspen Institutes in Berlin, Rome, Lyon, Tokyo, New Delhi, and Bucharest, and leadership programs in Africa, Central America and India.


View Comments