The NCSL Blog


By Tammy Jo Musgraves

Medicaid, health insurance issues and health reforms, access to health care services and behavioral health were among the topics on the agenda when the NCSL Health Program recently assembled 24 legislators from 16 Eastern states in Cambridge, Mass.

From left: Senator Lucy Rogers of Vermont (D), Senator John Bizon of Michigan (R), Delegate Jenn Terrasa of Maryland (D), Representative Joe Lovvorn of Alabama (R), Representative Raymond Seigfried of Delaware (D).Most of the lawmakers are new both to health policy and their legislature but connected with each other on health challenges throughout the country, their states and districts.

“This should be a required primer for new legislators. Absolutely fantastic. I wish there was added time for more,” said Representative Deanna Frazier (R-Ky.).

NCSL staff and industry experts presented a wide range of health topics, state trends and potential policy levers for all states in attendance.

Beginning early Saturday morning, legislators learned about Medicaid, health insurance issues and health reforms, access to health care services and behavioral health. The sessions included:

  • Medicaid: Overview and Innovations: Medicaid accounts for about 30% of the average state’s budget when including both state and federal dollars. This session provided an overview of the program, potential forthcoming changes and state efforts to make it more efficient and effective.
  • Health Insurance Issues and Health Reforms: State governments play a primary role in regulating insurance plans, whether or not they’ve operated the marketplace exchanges within their state. This session provided an overview and discussion of state roles in health plan regulation, exchanges and coverage innovations with Joel Ario, managing director for Manatt Health.
  • Access to Health Care Services: States continue to address health access issues, including providing services in rural areas, implementing telehealth, exploring emerging providers and addressing workforce shortage issues. This session highlighted state strategies to improve access to health care services. Legislators had the opportunity to discuss these topics with experts and one another.
  • Behavioral Health: Substance Use Disorder and Mental Health: Legislators learned about behavioral health, including substance use disorders (SUD) and suicide prevention. This session focused particularly on state policy options and trends to address the opioid crisis, and specific strategies taken to prevent suicide and improve access to mental health care. Legislators had time to ask questions and share challenges within their state with NCSL experts and Regina LaBelle, program director of the Addiction and Public Policy Initiative, Georgetown University Law Center.

The conference wrapped up on Sunday with sessions on prescriptions drugs and maternal and child health. The sessions included:

  • Prescription Drugs: Prescription 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. This session highlighted a range of prescription drug issues and engaged with leading professionals in the field, including Steve Fitton, an independent consultant and former Michigan Medicaid director, and Scott La Ganga, the senior vice president for state advocacy at Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).
  • Maternal and Child Health: States can play a role in keeping moms, babies and children healthy. Access to services around prenatal care, newborn screenings, well child visits and school-based health services are all ways states can improve health for the maternal and child health population. Legislators learned about trends and policy options to improve health for this population.

This meeting gave legislators who otherwise might not have had the opportunity to convene and learn from one another.

Legislators also toured the Novartis Institute of BioMedical Research, where they had an opportunity to discuss new scientific advancements in biomedical research.

Read more about the conference’s agenda and presentations from expert panelists. This meeting was sponsored by a grant from Novartis.

Tammy Jo Musgraves is a policy specialist 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.