The Network: Highlights from 2015 and a Preview of 2016

A Message from Network National Director Donna Levin

As we begin a new year, I’d like to take the opportunity to share with you some of the Network’s accomplishments in 2015 and give you a preview of what we have planned for 2016 and beyond. 

The previous year was one of reflection and planning for the Network. We gave a lot of thought to the value we bring to the public health community and how we can more effectively serve those of you who are on the front lines. It was a pivotal time for us, and what we have planned for this year and next will demonstrate our commitment to using law and policy to effect systemic improvements in the health of communities and the larger population.

While we worked on strategy and planning, we also continued to provide the essential support that the public health community has come to depend on, and we reached thousands of practitioners, lawyers, policymakers and advocates with much-needed assistance, training and resources.

Network attorneys provided legal technical assistance to hundreds of public health practitioners on issues such as drug overdose prevention, health data sharing and privacy, food safety, children’s health including screening and immunization, and youth sports concussions. More than 900 of you attended our training webinars which examined laws and policies related to access to oral health care, immunization data sharing, telehealth, Tribal tobacco control, and other important issues. We shared information and resources with our more than 5,000 Network Joiners and the 13,000 of you who follow us on social media.

Some of the major resources Network attorneys developed in 2015 include:

  • A survey of states’ Medicaid managed care contracts and the extent to which they address children’s hearing and vision services.
  • A set of primers examining specific provisions of the Food Safety Modernization Act.
  • A template memorandum of understanding for the sharing of data among governmental entities that operate a population based Immunization Information System.
  • A legal toolkit for state policymakers to use in developing or improving policies for the use of newborn screening dried blood specimens and related information.
  • A compilation of state statutory and regulatory authorities for emergency declarations.
  • Numerous materials on legal interventions to reduce overdose from heroin and prescription drugs.
  • An overview of medical marijuana laws in 38 states and the District of Columbia.

I mentioned earlier that we spent the previous year thinking about how we can more effectively serve the public health community. In our many conversations with leaders and practitioners, it is clear public health should be viewed through an equity lens that considers the impact that factors such as access to care, education, housing, environment, and income have on the health outcomes of individuals, families and communities. The Network’s efforts in this and the coming year will focus on examining how law and policy can be used to improve health equity.  

We’ve begun this work in 2015, creating model provisions for states’ Medicaid managed care contracts to help ensure access to critical hearing and vision screening for low-income children. We’ve also examined other ways that law can help advance health across multiple arenas, including healthy and safe low-income housing, telemedicine reimbursement, paid sick and safe time, healthy food and beverages, reduced smoking rates, child vaccinations, universal pre-k, adolescents' healthy sleep, overdose prevention, and medical-legal partnerships.

In 2016 many of you will see our focus on health equity reflected in the legal technical assistance, as well as the resources and training we provide. And, we have recruited some of the best thinkers and practitioners in public health, public health law and other sectors to help lead and facilitate discussions on ways to achieve health equity at the National Public Health Law Conference in Washington, D.C. — discussions that we hope will result in collaborative strategies and initiatives at the local, state and national levels, and across sectors.

This year our nation elects new leadership, and with that comes uncertainty and change, and also opportunity. There will be implications for Affordable Care Act and other federal public health legislation; state and local governments will continue to adopt and implement new laws and regulations to tackle the myriad of public health concerns confronting their communities. Look to the Network to help you navigate through changing laws and policies, and continue to find innovative solutions to pressing public health issues.

Let’s start 2016 by connecting more with each other and sharing our ideas, challenges and successes. I invite you to reach out to any of us here at the Network, or to the larger Network community on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Here’s to a healthy 2016 for all.