On the policy front lines: State health and value strategies program helps state governments tackle COVID-19

Written by
Stephanie Benjamin, State Health and Value Strategies
April 1, 2020

As health care providers work tirelessly to test and treat patients who may have contracted the COVID-19 virus, state and local governments are working around the clock to create, adapt, and implement policies to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus and address the growing needs of their constituents. The State Health and Value Strategies program (SHVS), a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation project based at Princeton University’s Center for Health and Wellbeing, is supporting state governments through webinars and a new resources website — advising on rapid policy implementation and lending expert analysis as states evaluate the tools available for responding to the public health crisis.

Led by Program Director Heather Howard, former New Jersey Commissioner of Health and Senior Services and lecturer in public affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, the SHVS team is helping states quickly implement policies that: 1) encourage the uninsured or under-insured to seek testing and treatment for COVID-19; 2) reduce gaps in Medicaid coverage; 3) address the needs of vulnerable populations (including individuals who are in long-term care facilities, are homeless, or are undocumented immigrants); and 4) establish new and effective communication channels.

“States are on the front lines in responding to COVID-19. In addition to the public health measures put into place around the country, state departments of insurance, Medicaid programs, and state-based insurance Marketplaces are being tasked with identifying policies and action steps that can be taken to expand coverage for treatment, reduce consumer out-of-pocket spending, increase access to telemedicine, protect vulnerable populations, and expand provider capacity,” Howard said. “The novel pandemic has placed unprecedented burdens on state health programs and systems. Those stresses are compounded by the economic downturn, which will starve state budgets just when states need resources the most.”

To ensure that state policymakers have access to evidence-based resources for decision-making, the program has launched a website specifically geared toward state Medicaid programs, insurance Marketplaces, insurance commissioners, governors, and public health leaders — bringing together a collection of toolkits, templates, exemplary state models, and expert analysis.

The team also is offering virtual programming to help states identify tools in their Medicaid programs and commercial insurance regulation to combat the pandemic. For example, a webinar held on Thursday, March 26, explored the key health provisions in the second COVID-19 stimulus bill — the Families First Coronavirus Response Act — and their implications for state Medicaid and CHIP agencies and state-based Marketplaces. The event was attended by more than 450 officials from 49 states and Washington, D.C. Another webinar held Wednesday, March 18 explored both the strategies available to Medicaid programs and the opportunities for state regulators to reduce gaps in coverage and lower barriers to accessing care. More than 500 officials from all 50 states and the District of Columbia attended.

“We are pleased to be able to create an accessible ‘one-stop’ source of COVID-19 information for states. The website is designed to support states seeking to make coverage and essential services available to all of their residents, especially high-risk and vulnerable people, during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Howard said. “States need a consolidated and easily accessible source of information on what policy and operational options are available, along with analysis by a trusted source on the implications and considerations involved in each of those options.”

Supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the State Health and Value Strategies program is focused on assisting states with transforming their health care systems to be affordable, equitable, and innovative. By connecting states with experts in the field, SHVS is able to provide timely and meaningful technical assistance to states when they need it the most. SHVS assists states in four key domains: affordability, coverage, integration, and value. The technical assistance provided is informed by two overarching goals: that every person should have the same opportunities to access the health care system and therefore have a fair and just opportunity to lead the healthiest life possible; and to support the needs and goals of all patients as they interact with the health care system.

Source: Woodrow Wilson School