CMS administrator discusses the pandemic 'inflection point' during talk at Johns Hopkins

Chiquita Brooks-LaSure spoke Friday as part of the university's Health Policy Forum series

Addressing health equity challenges means asking the right questions, says Chiquita Brooks-LaSure. As administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which administers the nation's federal health programs, she says that in every conversation, she and her colleagues try to anticipate the unintended consequences of their work.

Measuring the success of new policies can't be simplified to "well, on average, it works out," Brooks-LaSure said Friday at a Johns Hopkins Health Policy Forum event. She argued for a pointed, data-driven approach that asks: "[How] are we going to affect individuals and different providers differently?"

The CMS head joined Johns Hopkins School of Nursing Dean Sarah Szanton for Friday's conversation, which touched on Brooks-LaSure's career, CMS programs, and nursing shortages, among other topics.

The first Black woman to head CMS, Brooks-LaSure started the job amid the gravest public health challenge of our time with the COVID-19 pandemic. She compared the experience to her past work as a policy official helping shepherd the Affordable Care Act into existence. Both situations, she said, exposed the gaps in our health care systems and the crucial links between health and economy.

"We are in one of these critical moments where it is an inflection point," Brooks-LaSure said. "Do we take a different approach to making sure that everyone in our country is covered and that that access is meaningful? That is what drives me."

She spoke of the importance of nurses, who are able to educate and inform about topics like vaccines—they are "people with lived experience that look and sound and have the same experiences as the people they are trying to communicate with." But hospitals are currently overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients while also experiencing staffing shortages. Brooks-LaSure said she has been speaking with Surgeon General Vivek Murthy about potential partnerships with CMS that can promote clinical wellness and support nurses.

One of the things Brooks-LaSure is especially focused on, she said, is integrating the lessons already learned during the pandemic: "How important mental health is, physical health—that we integrate that into our policies moving forward."

Brooks-LaSure is the fourth expert to participate in the Health Policy Forum series, which launched in fall 2020 to highlight the university's engagement with key leaders on matters of health policy and health care. Previous events featured Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (October 2020); Rochelle P. Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (May 2021); and Robert M. Davis, CEO and president of Merck (October 2021).

The Health Policy Forum series is jointly hosted by Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health, Carey Business School, and School of Nursing along with Johns Hopkins Medicine.