2018 Alliance Annual Dinner: Sarah J. Dash’s Remarks

Thank you, all, for being here tonight. It’s so good to see you.

On my last night as a Hill staffer, I took one last walk through the Capitol, past those signs that say “authorized personnel only”, and reflected on how grateful I was to have been entrusted with even a small role in shaping our nation’s health policy.

In my time there I had met with doctors and nurses, cancer patients and coal miners, entrepreneurs and executives, mothers and fathers, who were looking to us to do something—to make health care more affordable; support research that might deliver a cure; or tend to communities already reeling from the opioid epidemic.

Little did I know then that I would end up leading the Alliance for Health Policy, which was founded on the vision that in the ever-changing world of health care, policymakers need a trusted, nonpartisan resource to help them understand our health care system, and the potential implications of changes they want to make.

We are honored to have the Alliance’s founder, Senator Rockefeller here tonight. And we are grateful that the Alliance is continuing its proud tradition of bipartisan leadership.

I’m sometimes asked how I know the Alliance is accomplishing our mission to inform solutions for improving health care in the United States.

And then I walk into a room filled with health staff and policy wonks ready and waiting in Dirksen G-50 for our panel to begin, and I am reminded that there is a hunger for knowledge, and for objective, nonpartisan dialogue.

There is a dedication that shows through from our audience, briefing after briefing, year after year. I believe that’s because there is something truly special about health care.

After all, how many professionals get to say that they work in a field that has “care” in the description?

Health care is not easy, it’s not glamorous, and we still face huge challenges. We all know this.

But there is something that keeps us coming back to these jobs in this field day after day.  And when health care does work well, it touches our lives in a way that few other things can.

This year, I had the joy of bringing a daughter into the world.

So I went through the health policy looking glass and become a patient for a little while. 

That can be a strange experience especially for those of us who sometimes get a little lost in the weeds debating IPPS, OPPS, MACRA, UFA’s, AV’s, USPSTF… etcetera

The thing is, as a patient, all of a sudden you’re at the mercy of a lot of things you can’t control.

Fortunately, from my patient perspective, the system worked: the dedication of the residents, the security of having health care coverage, even the quality metrics written on whiteboards in the hallways. It all came together and we were blessed with a healthy baby.

And I have to mention the nurses, who somehow stayed cheerful and kind through their 12-hour shifts. That type of care is something that we, as patients, never forget.

But sometimes the experience is not so good. Just recently, a woman from Pennsylvania reached out to the Alliance. She and her siblings were looking for answers, trying to understand the policies and practices that may have influenced why their father suffered so much in the final few weeks of his life.

The woman, Debra, wrote to me: “The personal toll on our father and our family was tremendous.  He suffered through five unnecessary ambulance rides, seven room changes and countless procedures, each leaving him weaker and more distraught.  There is no way to accurately measure what he endured, but the economic toll is measurable.  Twenty-six days of care amounted to a staggering $284,000.”

Stories like Debra’s remind us why we need to keep going. Those acronyms actually mean something. Our work influences how people experience birth, death, and life itself.

The word “health” comes from the Old English meaning “wholeness—a being whole, sound, or well.”

Health is central to the quality of our lives: to how we support our families and communities, to how prosperous we can make our economy, and to the very vitality of our country.

And while health policy is so much bigger than any one of us—each of us has an important job to do.

Our job is to remember what is at stake when we debate health care.

Our job is to get the facts and the details right.

Our job is to be courageous in sticking with a conversation—even when not everybody agrees.

Tonight, we’ll be honoring health policy leaders who have committed to those ideals and have made health care all the better for it.

And my friends, you are those courageous people. Every day, you actively choose to do this work again and again.

And you dedicate your livelihoods to the lives of people you don’t even know.

And that is something worth celebrating.

Thank you.