When VP candidates debate in Salt Lake City, they can see changes on health care’s frontlines

When the VP candidates debate in Salt Lake City, they can see changes in health care’s frontlines

a laptop on a table: When VP candidates debate in Salt Lake City, they can see changes on health care's frontlines

© The Hill
When VP candidates debate in Salt Lake City, they can see changes on health care’s frontlines

Winston Churchill did something compelling when Nazi bombers attacked London at the start of World War II. Instead of rushing to a bomb shelter, he climbed to a rooftop so he could see what was happening. After the attacks, he visited bombed-out sites to see the impact on the communities he served.

“Churchill toured the worst-hit areas on foot,” one historian recalled. His bodyguard said, “He could no more stay out of a raid than he could sit still in a debate in Parliament.”

My point is to invite Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Vice President Mike Pence to take this same kind of close-up look at health care when they come to Salt Lake City for their debate on Oct. 7. They’ll see how leading health systems are reforming health care and learn how Washington can support practical efforts to make care more accessible and affordable.

Here are three simple solutions they’ll see.

First, we need to increase connectivity and offer more virtual care. When schools went virtual during the pandemic, we saw the challenges faced by kids who don’t have computer access. That same problem affects health care consumers, especially in impoverished and rural areas.

The use of telehealth skyrocketed during the pandemic, and people won’t want to go back to how things used to be. Vice President Pence and Sen. Harris ought to visit Intermountain’s newest hospital, which is entirely virtual, and see how it connects patients across vast rural areas with medical specialists in more than 50 disciplines.

When COVID-19 first struck, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services granted waivers to expand telehealth dramatically. Those waivers should be made permanent, and HHS should support telehealth’s continued expansion.

Second, we need to focus on keeping people healthy and treating them when they’re sick. Preventive care is directly tied to the social determinants of health, such as stable housing, joblessness, hunger, and access to transportation – all of which are major influences on health. Intermountain and other health systems have formed partnerships to address these influences, especially those disproportionately affecting people of color.

For example, the Centers for Disease Control reports that the rate of maternal deaths among Black women in the U.S. is 37.1 per 100,000 births, but only 17.4 percent for all women. That’s unconscionable. Racial inequities in health care are a public health crisis. While we don’t have all the answers, our clinical improvement model is crunching decades of data to identify problems in treating specific populations and refining our protocols until we get superior outcomes.

The government can help by updating regulations that have discouraged collaboration between physicians, hospitals, and other organizations and created unnecessary costs in today’s health care model, which is increasingly focused on provider coordination.

Third, we need to take practical steps