By Walker Stevens
Thirty-five lawmakers representing 26 states and the District of Columbia convened in June for NCSL’s second National Meeting of State Health and Human Services Committee Chairs.
Policymakers gathered to expand their knowledge of health and human services issues, exchange policy options and successes, bridge connections between legislators and issue experts, and develop individual action plans to confront issues head-on. Ninety-three percent of participants reported that the content of the meeting was useful to them, 90% said the meeting increased their knowledge of health and human services issues, and 100% agreed that the meeting was a valuable networking opportunity.
The learning began with “Good Morning, Medicaid!”—a session highlighting emerging opportunities within Medicaid to design services and supports that address non-medical needs such as housing, transportation, nutrition and other factors that influence health and well-being. NCSL’s Medicaid expert, Emily Blanford, and Dr. Roxane Townsend from Health Management Associates presented. Blanford provided some Medicaid reminders and Townsend shared insights from North Carolina’s Healthy Opportunities Pilot, where the state is looking to build an innovative system of care that addresses medical and non-medical drivers of health outcomes.
Legislators explored opportunities to reshape the child welfare systems in their states in the “Innovating Your Child Welfare System with Family First” session, which focused on the Family First Prevention Services Act. Family First authorizes federal reimbursement for money states spend on eligible prevention services and prioritizes keeping children in their homes as opposed to prioritizing their removal. Christine Calpin from Casey Family Programs spoke about the impacts of Family First on states, how states have begun implementation, and opportunities and challenges states are facing.
States experience multiple challenges recruiting and retaining the health and human services workforce. In a session titled “Building Qualified and Sustainable Workforces in Health and Human Services,” lawmakers discussed the challenges and opportunities across the workforces, including early childhood education, child welfare, primary health care and behavioral health care. Speakers included Suzanne Hultin from NCSL’s Employment, Labor and Retirement Program, Jennifer Stedron from Early Milestones Colorado, and Hannah Maxey from the Bowen Center for Health Workforce Research and Policy at Indiana University.
“Getting to Zero: Ending HIV Transmission” examined HIV prevalence and transmission rates in the United States and federal efforts to lower transmission rates. This session also explored support available to states and provided examples of state and local government efforts to reduce transmission. NCSL’s Charlie Severance-Medaris, Margaret Wile and Haley Nicholson presented.
A short session called “Opportunity Youth: Prevention and Reengagement Strategies” explored policies related to opportunity youth, 16- to 24-year-olds who are not working and are not enrolled in school, to prevent social disconnectedness and spur engagement with education, training and the workforce. Richard Williams, NCSL’s program manager for family economic security, presented.
Participants then tackled behavioral health, another critical issue across states. The session titled “Addressing Behavioral Health Across the Lifespan” examined state policy options to address behavioral health across the lifespan, from preventing adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) to intervening in adolescence and adulthood. Lynda Zeller from the Michigan Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities Administration, along with Wile and Nicholson from NCSL, presented.
The meeting closed with an issue fundamental to effective health and human services policy. “Housing is the Best Medicine” explained how, broadly speaking, housing encompasses everything from chronic homelessness to home ownership. Marcella Maguire from the Corporation for Supportive Housing explained how a lack of safe, stable and affordable housing contributes to unemployment, low education outcomes, a dependence on social services, mental health challenges, substance abuse and poor health in general.
Overall, legislators reported a measurable increase in their knowledge of session topics from before and after the meeting, with the greatest increases being related to opportunity youth, child welfare systems and Family First, and HIV prevention and treatment. Before leaving Denver, committee chairs developed their own action plans—individualized roadmaps for identifying priorities and goals and establishing steps and timelines to achieve what’s important to them as state legislators. NCSL staff will offer technical assistance and support for legislators to accomplish their desired action steps and goals.
This invitational meeting was hosted by NCSL with financial support from the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. For more information, visit the meeting webpage.
Walker Stephens was a summer intern with NCSL's Human Services Program.