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Hopeful Prospects For Pandemic
As New Year Dawns
A new calendar page and a new year yield muted optimism regarding the ongoing – and still treacherous – coronavirus pandemic. Two new vaccines, each of which received federal Food and Drug Administration authorization for emergency use, are now protecting thousands of Connecticut residents with more and more people receiving doses every day.

State officials expect it will be late spring or early summer before all residents have access to the vaccine. A special
web address has current information about what is expected to be a comprehensive, long-term roll-out of the vaccination program.

All told, over a hundred thousand doses of the coronavirus vaccines have already arrived in Connecticut. The first residents to receive them are front-line healthcare workers and staff and residents of nursing homes. Emergency medical services workers and other first responders are also among the first to be vaccinated.

“This is a significant moment for our state and our country,” Governor Lamont said when the first shipments began to arrive. “Here in Connecticut, we are incredibly proud to be able to say that the Pfizer team in Groton helped to develop this first vaccine to fight the coronavirus, which we know will help to get our communities back to normal.”

Shipments of Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine also arrived and are being administered in Connecticut. Both the Pfizer and Moderna products require two separate shots, to be given three to four weeks apart. The Pfizer product is said to be 95 percent effective; Moderna’s version, 94.1 percent.

This undeniable cause for optimism, in Connecticut and around the world, is tempered by concurrent news that, in the United States alone, more than 350,000 people have died by now of complications from COVID-19, a wrenching, accelerating toll reached less than two months after the nation’s virus deaths reached a quarter-million.

This past month Connecticut has also witnessed upticks in COVID-19 positivity rates, hospitalizations, and fatal cases.

State health officials urge residents to remain vigilant however, no matter daily or week-to- week statistics. They remind residents coronavirus has repeatedly shown the ability to mutate, and that its transmission capability remains unpredictable.

With that in mind, using facemasks, maintaining adequate distance between people, avoiding large crowds, and frequent hand-washing remain strongly recommended as essential mitigation tools until enough people are successfully vaccinated and widespread immunity replaces wholesale vulnerability. 
Connecticut's Healthcare Cost Growth Benchmark Is Model For Other States 
Last January Governor Lamont’s Executive Order #5 directed OHS to set a cost growth benchmark specific to healthcare. Now, a quick year later, with its healthcare cost growth target in place, Connecticut has established itself among the first on a growing list of states to integrate a benchmark strategy to curb steadily rising healthcare costs.

With that in mind, the National Academy for State Health Policy (NASHP) invited OHS Executive Director Vicki Veltri to join a panel of presenters last month at a state officials-only webinar to explain the advantages of setting a cost growth targets specific to healthcare.

“As health care costs rise, state revenues decline, and individuals and families face increasing economic uncertainty, state leaders are interested in developing cost-growth benchmarks to cap how quickly total health care expenditures can rise to better align health costs with the state’s overall economic growth,” according to NASHP. “This webinar… explore(d) the strategies and experiences of states that are implementing cost-growth benchmark policies.”

For example, the first state to implement such a benchmark, Massachusetts, set a cost growth target of 3.6 percent for the years 2013 – 2017 and reported an average growth rate of just 3.4 percent, meaning employers and consumers spent some $7 billion less than they would have if the state’s spending increases had remained as high as the national rate.

“Year after year in Connecticut, healthcare cost increases outpace the state’s economic growth plus residents’ personal income growth, and that trend is simply unsustainable,” Vicki said during the webinar. “The appeal of the state’s new cost growth benchmark is transparency and accountability throughout the industry so cost drivers can be identified and mitigating policy initiatives can be developed and implemented.”

For Connecticut in calendar year 2021, targeted healthcare cost growth was set at 3.4 percent. That target decreases to 3.2 percent for calendar year 2022, then 2.9 percent for 2023 – 2025. Connecticut is thought to be particularly suitable for a cost growth benchmark program as the corporate home of national insurance companies and three large hospital systems.

Data used to monitor healthcare cost growth will be monitored through a network of providers, payers, and healthcare advocates who serve on the OHS-administered Technical Team, Stakeholder Advisory Board, or Quality Council. The resulting oversight will help ensure no unintended consequences in terms of underutilized services and any negative impact on healthcare among marginalized groups of Connecticut residents.

The NASHP webinar featured officials from four other states with comparable programs – Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Delaware, and Oregon, while several other states actively work toward or consider one, including California, Washington, and Pennsylvania.
OHS To Begin Work On Five-Year
Statewide Health IT Plan
With the start of the new year, another initiative – under the auspices of OHS – will soon be underway. In partnership with the state’s Health Information Technology Advisory Council OHS will begin work to refresh the state’s Five-Year Statewide Health Information (HealthIT) Plan.

Over the coming months OHS staff will begin soliciting input through a combination of surveys, interviews, and webinars to help gauge where health IT stands – and where it stands to improve and advance – for improved care coordination in primary care, behavioral health, and social services, improved health in communities and local public health districts, and managing the transition of care through EMS, hospitals, health systems, skilled nursing and long-term care facilities.

“Overall, we’ll assess the adoption and use of Health IT by organizations and individuals in Connecticut,” according to Sean Fogarty, a Lead Planning Analyst at OHS. “We are currently working on approaches to gain stakeholder input to better inform the development of The Plan.”

The goals of the Five-Year Statewide Health IT Plan include:
  • increasing data availability and sharing, and setting priorities for statewide health 
    information exchange (HIE) services;
  • improving useability and interoperability of state agency data systems to provide better user experiences for consumers and providers of healthcare and social support services;
  • engaging individuals in their own health and care through digital solutions;
  • providing technical assistance, education, and training for improving the use of new and existing health IT systems;
  • securing future public and private funding for health IT shared services and data sharing projects;
  • easing reporting burdens for providers and organizations; and
  • allowing individuals more timely and complete access to their own data.
The Plan will be finalized by OHS and the Health IT Advisory Council in the fall of 2021 for distribution to lawmakers ahead of the 2022 legislative session.

The Plan will guide prioritization and governance of the public and private investments made in Connecticut’s Health IT infrastructure and advance the state’s goals toward health improvement and healthcare transformation.

In a word, The Plan is meant to provide the vision for expanded Health IT in the state to inform clinical care, drive population health improvements, and engage individual residents in their own health and wellness.
OHS Staff Profile:
Leslie Greer
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Connecticut residents are fortunate – and should be happy to know – that when they call OHS, whether for general information about the agency, to inquire about specific medical or hospital practices, to learn details about the Certificate of Need public hearing process, or with most any other question, they are likely to be helped most capably by OHS Consumer Information Representative Leslie Greer.

First-rate consumer engagement maintains a vital role among the spectrum of OHS services: “Through collaboration with consumers… the (agency) is leading work to forward high-quality, affordable and accessible healthcare for all Connecticut residents,” according to the agency’s website. “OHS holds community forums and convenes several stakeholder groups to ensure the needs and expertise of consumers… are part of policy development and implementation.”

There’s wholesale agreement that Leslie, after several in-house promotions, and now with nearly 14 years at OHS (and predecessor agencies OHCA and DPH) could not be better suited for the front-line job.

“Anyone who knows me knows this is the perfect position for me,” Leslie said. “I’ve always had a passion for assisting consumers in any way possible and often go above and beyond to ensure their questions or needs are satisfied.”

Beyond fielding consumer-direct inquiries, Leslie also serves as an agency liaison to the public through her engagement with OHS consumer advisory bodies, and while attending hospital public forums and OHS outreach activities. She provides eyes and ears for OHS, reporting any questions, concerns, and suggestions members of the public may have.

As an undergraduate Leslie studied Human Services and earned a BA in Science from Springfield College; she is married, lives in Bloomfield, and is the proud mother of two daughters.
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