ASTHO’s Executive Director Forecasts Top 2017 Priorities for State and Territorial Public Health

January 12, 2017|9:33 a.m.| Michael Fraser

As we kick off 2017, here are a few items I predict will be key priorities and issues for ASTHO this year. While I do not have a crystal ball, several issues will certainly challenge us, presenting new opportunities for state and territorial public health agencies.

1. Uncertainty is Definitely Certain. While presidential and congressional transitions often bring uncertainty and change, this transition seems to be marked by more uncertainty than usual, especially given the budget pressures faced in Washington, D.C. and efforts to repeal and replace the ACA without a clear sense of what replacement plans may mean for public health, which brings me to…

2. What is Public Health’s Place in “Replace?” ACA repeal and replace efforts have already started in Washington, D.C., creating tremendous uncertainty around how public health programs currently funded through the ACA will be sustained if ACA is repealed. What we do know is that, if ACA is repealed, almost $1 billion in funding for CDC prevention programs will be cut. ASTHO is actively working to identify options for sustaining these investments, much of which fund state and territorial health agencies.

3. Prescription Opioids, Heroin, and the ASTHO President’s Challenge. There will be more urgency to address the challenges posed by substance misuse and addiction as opioid-related overdose deaths continue to rise and new funding will go to states for substance misuse treatment and prevention as authorized in the 21st Century Cures Act. ASTHO will be looking at ways to play a stronger leadership role nationally by demonstrating how states and territories are responding to the crisis. The 2017 President’s Challenge continues to be a platform to focus on the role state and territorial public health plays in preventing addiction.

4. The Return of the Zika Virus. While the threat of Zika has ebbed in many states, the arrival of spring will mean more mosquito activity. In anticipation of 2017 response work, ASTHO will look at lessons learned from the 2016 Zika response. Look for more opportunities for states to learn from each other, as well as potential cross-state and cross-border activities to comprehensively address Zika virus transmission nationwide.

5. Flexible Funding: Blending, Braiding, and Block Grants. If campaign promises hold true, the new administration and Congress will focus on allowing states more flexibility when it comes to how federal programs are implemented in the states. Look for conversations about blending funding, braiding funding, and block granting programs to give states more opportunities to program dollars to meet state and local needs.

6. Integrating Healthcare Delivery and Public Health. No matter what happens to the ACA and CMS’s Innovation Center, I would bet that the focus on alternative payment models and the move from volume to value in healthcare delivery will continue—albeit in a different shape or institutional home. Public health agency efforts to connect health promotion and wellness programs with healthcare delivery partners will continue to be needed in 2017 as payers look for savings and ways to reduce overall healthcare spending. The ASTHO Integration Forum will play a critical role in furthering these discussions and sharing best practices across the country, as will our chronic disease prevention and health promotion activities that bring healthcare partners and public health agencies together to address shared issues and concerns.

7. Public Health Workforce and Leadership Development. ASTHO will implement the next iteration of PH WINS in 2017, which provides vital data on workforce needs and the interests of state and territorial public health professionals. In addition, several public health leadership development programs are recruiting participants in early 2017 to help develop the next generation of public health leaders: RWJF’s Culture of Health Leaders, the Emerging Leaders program, the National Public Health Leadership Academy, and ASTHO’s revised State Health Leadership Initiative. The de Beaumont Foundation is also supporting partner efforts to kick-off the Public Health Business Fundamentals Certificate program.

8. ASTHO Policy Development on Marijuana. As more states legalize the use of marijuana, state health officials continue to face challenges implementing required regulations and aligning activities to prevent young people from using it. Look for committee and board activity to clarify ASTHO’s position on marijuana—a topic that will engage all of our members and partners in significant discussion and debate.

9. Celebrate! ASTHO’s 75th Anniversary. 2017 is ASTHO’s 75th anniversary year—a great opportunity to highlight the work of state and territorial health agencies. We will kick off the year with a Capitol Hill briefing in March and celebrate at our gala on Sept. 19, which will be held in conjunction with the ASTHO Policy Summit and Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C. Look for invitations and opportunities to participate in anniversary events in the months ahead.

10. Enhancing ASTHO’s Reach and Connection to Members. I am excited about operational enhancements at ASTHO, including new association management software and improved communications technology. These upgrades will provide more effective ways for us to communicate with state and territorial health officials and stakeholders and give health officials and other ASTHO peer groups new and better ways to communicate with, share, and learn from each other. We will also be launching our Profile of State and Territorial Health Agencies this year. Look for updated data on your agency and public health infrastructure and capacity nationwide.

As you can tell, 2017 will be a busy year for ASTHO. I look forward to all that we will accomplish together!

Michael Fraser is the executive director of ASTHO.