Gov. Bill Haslam has launched a new statewide task force aimed at improving the health of Tennesseans and reducing the state’s health care costs by addressing the prevention and management of chronic diseases.
The aptly named Task Force on Health and Wellness, chaired by University of Tennessee Chief Medical Officer John W. Lacey III, will include stakeholders from across the state representing public and private health, business, education and other interests who say they will work collaboratively to define and share strategies that address chronic disease and other health challenges in the state.
Haslam, Lacey and former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist announced the formation of the group at a Thursday morning press conference.
“Health care is a huge cost to the state of Tennessee,” Haslam said. “Almost a third of all state dollars go to health care in one form or another … and anything we can do to control that cost is significant.”
Haslam also said improving Tennessee’s low ranking among states for health indicators could increase the state’s competitiveness for attracting companies and creating jobs.
“It’s a competitive world, and employers look and see what are all the cost factors that impact a business being here and if you look at a population that’s not as healthy as it could be, that works against us in recruiting jobs,” he said.
To start, the task force will focus on atrial fibrillation, or AFib — a heart condition that results in irregular heartbeat and is linked to an increased risk of stroke and the worsening of other cardiovascular conditions. According to statistics from AFStat, a Washington, D.C.-based organization for which Frist serves as health policy adviser, AFib affects more than 2.5 million Americans, and its prevalence is expected to double by 2040.
In Tennessee, total Medicare payments related to AFib were approximately $47.9 million in 2007, the most recent year for which data is available.
“It remains today a largely unrecognized cost driver, and that impact will just increase over time,” said Frist, who is serving as a policy adviser to Haslam’s task force. “So it’s one that we clearly need to address.”
Lacey is beginning to assemble the rest of the task force’s membership and starting the work of identifying recommendations related to AFib and other conditions, such as diabetes and obesity. But he said he’s not operating on a specific timeline.
“It is a daunting task — we don’t underestimate the challenge that lies ahead,” he said. “But the goals are worthy, and the work therefore must be done.”