Health, Medicine & Society at the Aspen Institute

February 24, 2022: The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association and the Health, Medicine & Society Program of the Aspen Institute have published “Breakthrough Cures, Blockbuster Costs: Future Directions,” a framework for ensuring high-cost medicines for rare conditions are affordable and accessible to patients. The two organizations brought together leading health care, academic, government and patient advocacy experts to discuss the value of advanced therapies and how best to pay for them, and to identify key areas for further research. Advanced therapies are biomedical breakthroughs that often treat rare conditions and can transform or even save a patient’s life. However, these medicines tend to come with extremely high price tags — by 2031, as many as 90 gene and cellular therapies are expected to be approved for use by 550,000 patients, at an annual acquisition cost of $30 billion.

Tisch leadership series

The Preston Robert Tisch Award in Civic Leadership was created to recognize individuals who have had a positive impact on their communities, who embody the broad Aspen Institute ideal of values-based leadership, and who have exemplified this ideal in innovative ways that can serve as models for other leaders. The 2021 Preston Robert Tisch Award honors Dr. Mitchell Katz, MD, president and CEO of NYC Health + Hospitals.

Blue Mind: The Health Power of Water

From a paddle downstream to a walk on the beach to a picnic by a pond or even a quiet soak in your tub, time spent near, in, on, or under the water can have real, quantifiable health benefits. Join the Aspen High Seas Initiative and the Health, Medicine, and Society Program for a discussion of the healing power of water in celebration of World Ocean Day.

Making Progress in Cancer Diagnostics: Clinical Practice and Policy

Join the Health, Medicine and Society Program of the Aspen Institute and the USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy & Economics for an expert webinar on new clinical advances in cancer screening and prevention and the policy issues surrounding access to and adoption of these advances by clinicians, payers, and public officials.

American Racism Through the Lens of COVID-19

The U.S. has recorded more than 100,000 deaths from COVID-19. The numbers also show that black and brown people are up to 3.5 times more likely to die of the virus than white people. This pandemic has further exposed the long-standing inequities and injustices that people of color, particularly Black, Indigenous, and Latinx people, experience within the U.S. health care system. How does racism play a role? While factors such as lack of access to affordable insurance and healthy food are partly to blame, death rates for many conditions are disproportionately higher among people of color even when controlling for these items. Racism is a visible and invisible through line­­ that we must understand, call out, and confront. Join Aspen Health Innovators Raegan McDonald-Mosley, MD, MPH, and Thomas Fisher, MD, MPH, who are on the frontlines of health care, as they discuss this issue with NPR’s Maria Hinojosa and take audience questions.

COVID-19 Testing: The Hope and the Hype

The roadmap to recovery from the pandemic relies heavily on testing—for both the presence of COVID-19 and the antibodies that might make people immune. But critical questions remain. When will accurate tests be available and to whomHow will we use these tests, and what are their limits? How we move forward will be instrumental in setting the pace for both protecting the public’s health and rebuilding the country’s economy.  This process will also reveal our values as a society—whether we will exacerbate or help address health system inequities; whether we will stigmatize some or unite everyone through a common goal. Join Aspen Health Innovators Shamiram R. Feinglass, MD, MPH, and SreyRam Kuy, MD, who are on the frontlines of test development and strategy, patient care, and research, as they discuss these issues with The New York Times’ Margot Sanger-Katz and take audience questions.

Rationing Health Care: By Intention or Default?

The U.S. has long rationed health care—by factors that include income, immigration status, age, and disability—but it’s rarely explicit or acknowledged. When the coronavirus struck, Americans were forced to confront this uncomfortable fact. Who gets a ventilator if they are in short supply? How do we decide who should be tested for the virus? Who should wear a mask (and what kind)?

Can the conversations we’re having during this crisis lead us to a future where decisions are more transparent, intentional, and equitable? Join Health Innovators Fellows Joe Betancourt, Stacy Lindau, and Monica Lypson in conversation with The New York Times’ Margot Sanger-Katz as they consider these questions in the first webinar of the Health Care at an Inflection Point series.

Coronavirus shows how we need vaccines before, not after, an outbreak: As the number of people infected with the coronavirus (which causes the coronavirus disease 2019, or COVID-19) continues to rise, the full extent and severity of this outbreak still remains unclear. Will it continue to escalate into an even more deadly global pandemic, or will it burn itself out and prove to be more of a severe dress rehearsal for the next really big one?

The race for a COVID-19 vaccine underscores the role of vaccination in protecting the health of individuals and communities and maintaining the functions of modern society. The most humane and efficient way to move past the coronavirus pandemic will be to develop, test, manufacture, distribute, and administer a safe and effective vaccine to billions of people around the globe.

The past four years have been marked by heated and extreme political rhetoric, the loss of the political middle ground, and policymaking gridlock. COVID-19 exacerbated these political schisms before racism once again dominated the news. While these debates rage on, the loss of American lives continues to grow.

February 1, 2021: The Aspen Institute’s Health, Medicine & Society Program and Aspen Institute Romania invite you to a live conversation with director Alexander Nanau, journalist Catalin Tolontan, and Romanian Minister of Health Vlad Voiculescu to discuss the award-winning documentary Collective. The conversation will be moderated by Margot Sanger-Katz of the New York Times.

The year 2020 saw a reusable rocket launch two astronauts into space, multiple COVID-19 vaccines developed in record time, and a robot that could write a persuasive op-ed. In the United States, the year also saw public distrust of science contribute to the worst health crisis in modern history. This contrast highlights a sharp dichotomy in the role of science in American public life: breathtaking discovery and innovation alongside growing distrust of scientific evidence and recommendations. How can the country reconcile this dissociation?

CNN recently aired an exclusive interview with CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, on the longstanding and compelling need to understand firearm injury as a health problem. Despite many years of political advocacy for gun control—costing hundreds of millions of dollars in private funding—the health toll from firearm misuse, injury, and death has continued to rise. To make matters worse, the national discourse on how Americans should address this societal problem has only become more rancorous.

Dr. Walensky and the CDC recognize that by investing in non-partisan health research, we will develop health programs that can have an immediate impact on treating this crisis. As part of this strategy, she recognized that firearm owners and experts must be engaged directly. Dr. Walensky and CNN identified several groups already working successfully in this space and came to Vermont to see some of this work in progress.

CNN and CDC AFFIRM the Importance of Non-Partisan Approaches to Firearm Injury Prevention

CNN and CDC AFFIRM the Importance of Non-Partisan Approaches to Firearm Injury Prevention – The Aspen Institute

In 2019, the Aspen Institute joined forces with Johns Hopkins Medicine to develop an ambitious plan for an emerging field in health: the neuroarts. The initiative, called the NeuroArts Blueprint, aims to strengthen the scientific research on how the arts impact the brain, body, and behavior and how to use this knowledge to improve health and wellbeing around the world.

Over the past two years, the initiative engaged global leaders in science, art, healthcare, technology, and other sectors to build a roadmap for the future of the field—one where the arts become a mainstream part of medicine and preventative care.

But most of these treatments, ranging from music to poetry to visual arts, still have not undergone rigorous scientific testing. So artists and brain scientists have launched an initiative called the NeuroArts Blueprint to change that.

The initiative is the result of a partnership between the Johns Hopkins International Arts + Mind Lab Center for Applied Neuroaesthetics and the Aspen Institute’s Health, Medicine and Society Program. Its leadership includes soprano Renée Fleming, actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith, and Dr. Eric Nestler, who directs the Friedman Brain Institute at Mt. Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine.

When we think about how science is distorted, we usually think about concepts that have ample currency in public discourse, such as pseudoscience and junk science. Practices like astrology and homeopathy come wrapped in scientific concepts and jargon that can’t meet the methodological requirements of actual sciences. During the COVID-19 pandemic, pseudoscience has had a field day. Bleach, anyone? Bear bile? Yet the pandemic has brought a newer, more subtle form of distortion to light. To the philosophy of science, we humbly submit a new concept: “zombie science.”