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HHS unveils two moves to improve patient-centered care

By Kyle Murphy, PhD

The Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) continues its push to ensure that patients have access to high-quality and affordable care in two recent announcements related to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The first highlights the distribution of $35.7 in ACA funding to 147 health centers in 44 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico to support the development of patient-centered medical homes via the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).

“Today’s awards will support 21 new construction projects and 126 alteration and renovation projects at health centers across the United States as they work to improve their design and expand existing structures to better support team-based care,” HRSA Administrator Mary Wakefield, PhD, RN, said in a public statement.

The news follows similar ACA funding announcements in July that saw the awarding of $54.6 million and availability of $100 million in funds to expand behavioral health services and access to primary care through new community health centers, respectively.

The recipients of the most recent series of ACA funding add to the efforts of 1,300 health centers and 9,200 service delivery sites to educate patients across the country about their ability to access coverage as a result of the legislation.

“Health centers provide access to quality health care for millions of Americans regardless of their ability to pay,” said HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell. “We’re making these investments so that health centers will be able to provide even higher quality services to the patients that rely upon them.”

The second bit of news involves management appointments to ensure a successful 2015 Open Enrollment for the Health Insurance Marketplace following a disastrous campaign during the initial launch of HealthCare.gov.

Burwell has pegged Kevin Counihan to serve as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Marketplace Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Lori Lodes as the new Director of Communications for CMS. According to Burwell, the appointments are part of her commitment to make good on promises that saw her become successor of former HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

“We are building strong teams with the focus and know-how necessary to advance our mission and deliver impact for the people we serve,” she explained. “We are committed to instilling ongoing accountability for reaching milestones, measuring results and ensuring a successful open enrollment period.”

Counihan’s task will be to take on the responsibility of leading the federal Marketplace, coordinating with the state exchanges, and heading up the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight regulating health insurance federally. His experience and success as the CEO of the Connective Health Insurance Exchange was enough to secure him his new post.

Lodes, meanwhile, is tasked with ensuring that the message about the 2015 Open Enrollment doesn’t fall on deaf ears. CMS’s new Director of Communications previously served as Senior Vice President for Campaigns and Strategies for the Center for American Progress Action Fund and Senior Vice President at the Center for American Progress.

Burwell is also retaining the services of Tim Hughey of Accenture as the system developer and maintainer for the Marketplace.

With new management in place it’s time to see if they can avoid the failures of their predecessors (it’s unlikely they could fare any worse) and ensure that the primary beneficiaries of the ACA are in fact the patients themselves.

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