New conference strives to unite state’s health economics community
LAWRENCE — The field of health economics analyzes both the health care industry and the well-being of the population.
While the theoretical side is one approach, according to David Slusky, associate professor of economics at the University of Kansas, it’s even more effective through practical, boots-on-the-ground interaction.
That’s the strategy for his inaugural Kansas Health Economics Conference (KHEC). The event will take place March 23, 2020, at the KU Adams Alumni Center. Slusky just landed a three-year, $49,763 grant from the National Science Foundation to help produce the event.
“We have the necessary elements across the state and the Kansas City metro region to develop a real community of health economists. But we’re never all in the same place,” Slusky said.
The one-day conference will address this by gathering researchers, graduate students, undergrads and members of the wider health economics community.
Slusky said, “The idea here is to have some of the narrow academic conversations. But we also want part of the meeting to be about what else can we do? How can we coordinate better? And how can we pull our expertise and resources to better be part of the broader community?”
The conference consists of four types of events: a keynote speech, short pitch presentations for early-stage work, longer presentations for late-stage work and a brainstorming session with economists and non-economists discussing avenues for outreach.
The grant is to be used for expenses of a keynote speaker, meals, room rentals and materials. Slusky plans to work with staff from the Institute for Policy & Social Research to organize the summit.
Eastern Kansas is an ideal place to invest in health economics research. It boasts two top research universities, a state capital, a major metropolitan area, an urban hub of universities and professional schools, and one of the 12 main branches of the Federal Reserve System. Additionally, four of the five largest private employers in the Kansas City metro area are part of the health industry: Cerner, HCA’s Midwest Health System, Saint Luke’s Health Care System and Children’s Mercy Hospital.
The state is also affected by many of the health-related issues that plague the nation, including numerous rural areas (with a dwindling number of providers) and extremely poor and segregated urban areas, both of which contrast with nearby wealthy suburban areas.
Part of this grant will also go to hosting the 2021 Midwest Health Economics Conference in Lawrence. This is the first opportunity the longtime event (previously held at the University of Michigan, Ohio State University, Indiana University and the University of Minnesota) has come to the state, and Slusky is hoping the central location and momentum from the KHEC can attract a wide range of scholars.
“I wanted to have funds available for graduate students to come — since they don’t often have a lot of their own travel funding — and also for speakers from schools that don’t have large endowments or other kinds of travel funds. It’s kind of a need-based model, which I’ve not seen so much in my profession,” said Slusky, who previously received a grant from the Health Forward Foundation.
The Philadelphia native came to KU five years ago when accompanying his wife, Joanna Slusky, a KU assistant professor of molecular biosciences and computational biology.
He considers himself “a pretty broad health economist.”
“I mostly work on health outcomes: fertility rates, procedure uses and such. But I look at different kinds of variations that affect those, such as infrastructure and environment, health insurance and also providers,” he said.
Ultimately, Slusky anticipates the Kansas Health Economics Conference will provide a grounded sense of connection for those who work in this field.
“There are not a lot of health people in Kansas. That’s why I want to get us all together,” he said.
“But there are health economists all over the country who are really lovely, brilliant people. It’s great to present work to them and get feedback on work. It’s also great to get to see what new stuff is out there. But most importantly, it’s great to see my students present their work — there’s a huge amount of pride in that.”