October 2, 2023

2023 Annual Convention Highlights: A DEI All-Star, Hall of Fame Take on Mental Health and Surprisingly Competitive Bowling

Kelly O’Reilly, President and CEO, Ohio Association of Health Plans

To anyone who joined us at our Annual Trade Show & Convention in September, we’re so glad you did, because it was one of the most informative (and fun!) ever, with speakers and panels on DEI, value-based care, health costs for businesses, mental-health resilience and recovery and health information exchange. For those who weren’t able to make it, I want to share a few of the highlights.

I’ll start with the fun: Our first-ever bowling outing was a huge hit! More than 100 people made the short trek to Star Lanes, across the street from our site at the Hilton Columbus Polaris hotel. To be honest I expected a handful of folks to actually bowl, with most enjoying some social food and drink, but I clearly underestimated our members’ competitive streak. All lanes were busy all night, and the rivalry was real.

Here are some of the most memorable program moments: 

The business case for diversity, equity & inclusion: We started strong, with a home-run keynote speech by Kevin Clayton, senior vice president and head of social impact and equity for the Cleveland Cavaliers. With Kevin, the Cavs organization has distinguished itself as a diversity, equity and inclusion leader and people were absolutely riveted by his take on how to make DEI efforts successful. His point: Not everyone will embrace DEI because it’s “the right thing to do.”

Instead, the way to get more people on board is to tie DEI to your organization’s mission. Kevin put it into a health-care context: When people understand that more-diverse workplaces and diversity-friendly policies lead to better health outcomes and an improved bottom line, they’re naturally supportive.

Mental health recovery and resilience: NFL Hall-of-Famers Aeneas Williams and Steve Hutchinson joined Lori Criss, director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, to share moving insights of their experiences with mental illness. Aeneas spoke of his daughter’s mental illness, but also of how her success in recovery and the importance of simply listening to someone dealing with mental-health challenges.

Steve, who now works as college football recruiter, discussed how important it is for colleges to offer mental-health coaching and discussion. Despite the youth of the players he recruits, he sees many who are struggling with their mental health.

Director Criss shared the message she has been championing for years: The stigma around mental illness and addiction must be broken. Noting that, every day in Ohio, 19 people die “deaths of despair,” from substance-use disorder or suicide, she challenged us as health plans to ask whether our behavioral-health efforts are a response commensurate with our state’s urgent need.

Impact of health care costs on business: Ohio Sen. George Lang, long a champion of Ohio’s business owners, joined health care broker Valerie Bogdan-Powers of Hub HORAN and Chris Ferruso, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), to outline a tough environment that’s only getting tougher for business owners. Mandates to cover certain procedures or drugs (especially extremely costly specialty drugs) have long made health care costs the first- or second-greatest worry for businesses in NFIB’s annual survey. The pressure is even greater in recent years because the tight labor market dictates that curtailing coverage isn’t an option if employers want to keep workers.

The Ohio Statehouse — the politics behind the policy: A recent tradition, our media panel, returned this year with Dan Williamson of Paul Werth Associates leading three top Statehouse journalists in a lively discussion of how dysfunction at the Statehouse, exemplified by warring factions among the House’s Republican majority, is complicating efforts to pass needed health care policy bills. Laura Bischoff of The Columbus Dispatch, Scott Miller of Gongwer News Service and Morgan Trau of WEWS-TV in Cleveland and Ohio Capital Journal offered the inside view of the politics behind policy.

We’re grateful to all of the presenters who shared their expertise, sponsors who gave their financial support and — most of all — to the members, affiliates and friends who are the reason we love having the convention every year. I hope to see all of them and more at next year’s event.