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Policy for a healthy America

The solution to the nation’s healthcare crisis lies in shifting from a costly paradigm of treating sick patients to promoting health and preventing illness, according to health policy expert Timothy Hoff.

“We need to invest much more money in delivering better value to health consumers, and that means things like helping the public stay well,” said Hoff, an associate professor of management, healthcare systems, and health policy at Northeastern University. “Improving the healthcare system is dependent on promoting prevention and primary care, and doing less high-cost specialty care that may not improve or extend people’s lives in the ways we desire.”

U.S. healthcare reform is the focus of this fall’s Open Classroom series, which will be co-taught by Hoff as well as John Auerbach, director of the university’s Institute on Urban Health Research, and Wendy Parmet, Matthews Distinguished University Professor of Law. This semester’s Open Classroom, titled “Policy for a Healthy America,” will run from Sept. 4 to Dec. 4 and be held on Wednesdays from 6 to 8 p.m. in West Village F.

Each semester, one graduate-level seminar is selected for the series and opened up to the entire campus and the public for free. Registration information can be found here while undergraduate and graduate students can take the course for credit.

Topics of discussion will range from patient safety and reproductive health to the Affordable Care Act and obesity. Guest speakers will include Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino; Andrew Dreyfus, president and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts; and Amy Whitcomb Slemmer, executive director of Health Care for All, a Massachusetts-based organization dedicated to making adequate and affordable healthcare accessible to everyone, regardless of social or economic status.

“I expect our speakers will leave behind the slogans and shouting matches that have characterized so much public discourse on health policy in the last few years and explore some of the lesser known, but critical, issues that confront our healthcare system,” said Parmet, an expert in disability and public health law.

Now is the perfect time to strike up a public debate over healthcare policy, according to Auerbach, a nationally known expert in public healthcare and civic leadership. Prior to joining the Northeastern faculty, he served as the commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, working as a senior health policy adviser to Gov. Deval Patrick and overseeing the organization’s $800 million budget.

“This is a sentinel moment in healthcare and health promotion in America as a result of the passage of the Affordable Care Act,” he explained. “There are opportunities to reshape the healthcare field and make meaningful progress to assure that health services are accessible, high quality, and cost effective.

“We can only take advantage of these opportunities if we are well informed and actively engaged,” he added. “This course may help provide the attendees the information and tools they want and need.”

Joan Fitzgerald, the interim dean of the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs, which sponsors the seminar series, agreed with Auerbach’s assessment of the course’s value. “This course is particularly timely, especially with the court decision on Obamacare and continued efforts to prevent it from being implemented,” she said. “There is so much misinformation about how healthcare works in the United States and how our system compares with other countries.”

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