The NCSL Blog


By Tahra Johnson

State policymakers’ roles in health policy and public health, Medicaid, prescription drugs and behavioral health were all on the agenda when 40 legislators from 19 states attended a recent NCSL health-focused seminar in La Jolla, Calif.

Participants at the Genomics Institue of the Novartis Research Foundation.The meeting, Health Seminar for Newer Legislators, was the third similar event with various states since 2015. Participants included legislators from the western half of the country.

Legislators connected with and learned from other policymakers and experts about ways to improve health care and public health in their states.

“This seminar was well-designed to package a breadth of technical information into a digestible format," said Nevada Senator Yvanna D. Cancela (D). "Hats off to all the folks who put this together! I feel like I have lots of starting points for legislative ideas/solutions.”

This three-day conference provided state legislators who are newer to health topics the opportunity to listen to a variety of experts who shared information about best practices for improving access to quality health care, state policy innovations and foundations for health policy decision making.

Key focus areas of the meeting were:

  • State Policymakers’ Roles in Health Policy and Public Health. State governments play a number of roles in health policy, including purchaser, access broker, regulator, guardian of the public’s health, safety net provider and educator.
  • Medicaid Overview and Innovations. Medicaid accounts for about 20 percent of the average state’s budget. Speakers provided an overview of the program and participants discussed potential forthcoming changes and state efforts to make it more efficient and effective.
  • Health Insurance and Health Reforms. State governments play a primary role in regulating insurance plans, whether or not they’ve operated the marketplace exchanges within their states. Participants learned about and discussed state roles in health plan regulation, consumer protections, exchanges, insurance sales across state lines, coverage innovations, and proposed changes at the federal level.
  • Access to Health Care Services. States continue to address health access issues, including providing services in rural areas, implementing telehealth, accessing oral health services, improving maternal and child health and addressing workforce shortage issues. 
  • Prescription Drugs. Prescriptions drugs provide life-saving treatments and help control diseases and debilitating conditions. They also present legislators with challenges, including affording some of the new “miracle drugs” for Medicaid patients and state employees.
  • Behavioral Health. Participants learned about behavioral health, which includes both substance use disorders and severe mental illness. The session focused on state policy options and trends to address the opioid crisis and mental health, as well as policies that affect both mental health and substance misuse.

The meeting provided an atmosphere for legislators who otherwise might not have had the opportunity to convene and learn from one another. They had an opportunity to tour the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation and question scientists questions about their research.

Read more about the conference’s agenda and presentations from expert panelists.

This meeting was sponsored by a grant from Novartis.

Tahra Johnson is a program manager with NCSL's Health program.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.