ROCHESTER, Minn. — The 2017 Mayo Clinic Transform Conference opened with a keynote presentation that asked one of health care’s toughest questions: How do we maximize wellness? 

The panel of five speakers kicked off with a presentation from Andy Slavitt, senior adviser at the Bipartisan Policy Center. The former acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services walked attendees through a history of a few of the more significant moments in U.S. health care, from the implementation of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965 to the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2009.

“We changed the compact with the American resident of what it means to get access to care in the following way,” Slavitt said. “It doesn’t matter [about the patient's] income, health status, history — you should have access to affordable health care.”

Slavitt offered four building blocks for health leaders to help make care more accessible. They should:

  1. Engage with their communities on how to provide affordable, equitable care for all. The goal should be to land on a policy with 60 to 70 percent of public support.
  2. Spend time testing policy at the state level to figure out what works.
  3. Marry innovation with caring for vulnerable populations and providing services around behavioral health, housing, adverse child events and other social determinants.

For panelist David Mitchell, affordable health care is a must. In 2010, Mitchell, co-founder and president of Patients for Affordable Drugs, was diagnosed with multiple myeloma.

He must undergo 22 infusion sessions each treatment year, which consist of a mixture of half a dozen drugs. Two of those drugs cost $20,000 each session.

While he doesn’t hesitate to say how grateful he is for drug development — “prescription drugs are keeping me alive, literally” — he also maintains “drugs don’t work if people can’t afford them.”

The final speaker of the opening session, Christian Pean, M.D., physician at NYU Langone Medical Center, took a big-picture view. Penn believes we must continue to focus on the ethical framework of the health care system, and graduate medical education is an important place to start.

“We have to empower those on the front lines of the health care system. Whether that’s patients, providers … anyone [who's] going to make change can start with solidarity, and maybe that’s what will take us to the next frontier,” Pean says.