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Women in Healthcare: Karen Davis

In honor of Women’s History Month, Healthcare Finance News has asked some of the women leaders in the nation’s healthcare industry to talk about the role of women in healthcare. Contact HFN associate editor, Stephanie Bouchard, on Twitter @SBouchardHFN if you have suggestions for women that should be included in our series.

Today, we hear from Karen Davis, PhD, an economist and president of the Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation promoting a high-functioning healthcare system. Davis has led the Commonwealth Fund since 2005. Last fall, she announced that she will be stepping down from her position at the fund at the end of this year. Davis has had a long public policy career, including as administrator of the Health Resources Administration, where she became the first women to head a U.S. Public Resources Administration. She also is the author of numerous books, including “Health Care Cost Containment” and “Health and the War on Poverty.”

Q: What role do women have as decision-makers/leaders in today's healthcare sector?
A: There are currently many women in highly visible and influential leadership roles in every sector of healthcare. In government, Kathleen Sebelius, as Secretary of Health and Human Services, heads the agency that is charged with implementing the historic Affordable Care Act, which aims to transform the U.S. healthcare system by covering nearly everyone, and moving our healthcare system to one that is efficient, high-quality and patient-centered. Other women in notable healthcare leadership positions in government include the U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, MD, and FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, MD.

The Commonwealth Fund Commission on a High Performance Health System, a distinguished group of 17 healthcare experts and leaders formed in 2005 with the charge of promoting a high-performing health system that provides all Americans with affordable access to high-quality, safe care while maximizing efficiency in its delivery and administration, includes several women representing sectors of the healthcare system. Maureen Bisognano, president and CEO of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, Christine Cassel, MD, president and CEO of the American Board of Internal Medicine, Patricia Gabow, MD, CEO of Denver Health, and Louise Probst, executive director of the St. Louis Area Business Coalition, all bring a wealth of experience and valuable perspective to the commission’s deliberations and recommendations.

Q: What do women bring to the table to shape the future of healthcare?
A: All American women have a stake in the effective implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Not only do women have greater healthcare needs than men and face higher healthcare cost burdens and barriers to care because of cost, they are often the ones who coordinate healthcare for family members.

A Commonwealth Fund report released last year, Women at Risk, found that many women are struggling to afford the health insurance and healthcare they need. That study found that an estimated 27 million women ages 19-64 were uninsured for all or part of 2010, with women in low- and moderate-income families most likely to go without insurance. The report also found that women are skipping needed healthcare, with about half (48 percent) reporting they did not see a doctor when they were sick, didn't fill a prescription or skipped a test, treatment or follow-up visit because they couldn't afford it, up from 34 percent in 2001.

The Affordable Care Act will expand health insurance coverage to nearly all uninsured women and will make healthcare more affordable for millions of women through premium subsidies beginning in 2014 and new rules, some already in place, that will protect women from high costs.

It will be crucial for the health reform law to be implemented quickly and well so the millions of uninsured women and those with poor health insurance in the United States can finally afford the health insurance and healthcare they need.

Q: What do you personally believe should be the path forward to better care and lower costs?
A: The Affordable Care Act will cover nearly everyone when the major features are implemented in 2014, including expansion of Medicaid and new health insurance exchanges with subsidies to help make coverage affordable.

While bringing everyone into the system is a first step to solving many of the problems of access and affordability in our healthcare system, the payment and delivery system reforms in the law will be critical to ensuring that we are able to slow the unsustainable cost growth in our healthcare system.

As providers and communities put into place key features of the Affordable Care Act such as patient-centered medical homes, and find more efficient and effective ways to treat patients with complex chronic conditions, the savings generated should be reinvested with those who are leading the way towards ever-higher performance. Successful targeting and spread of these innovations will be critical to slowing the unsustainable growth in healthcare costs, and solving our nation’s economic challenges.

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