BALTIMORE -- "I would argue that what you face in health care is very similar to what we face in education -- revenues are down and needs are up," Freeman Hrabowski III said in his keynote address Monday at the opening of the National Academy for State Health Policy's 25th annual conference.
Quoting poets William Carlos Williams and Maya Angelou and evoking the legacies of Franklin Roosevelt and Martin Luther King Jr., Hrabowski told state policy wonks "the work you do is noble, but the situations we face are not easy. It comes down to how you respond. Aristotle said 'excellence is never an accident.' I think we need to remember that as we move forward," Hrabowski said.
Hrabowski -- president of University of Maryland, Baltimore County and one of Time Magazine's choices of the 100 most influential people in the world -- did his homework before addressing the NASHP crowd.
"Between 2009 and 2013, Medicaid is expected to grow 50%," Hrabowski said. "Regardless of the political and fiscal situations in your state, Medicaid is going to grow. The question is -- how do you respond as the state experts."
Hrabowski -- who at the age of 12 was arrested and spent time in jail after marching with Martin Luther King Jr. -- said "children know the difference between right and wrong. Education disparity and health care disparity go hand in hand." Hrabowksi urged policymakers to take the high road whenever possible and to keep the least privileged in mind when making decisions.
Comparing controversy over the Affordable Care Act to resistance to earlier social policy changes, Hrabowski asked health policy officials to remember Roosevelt's response to critics of his Social Security plans.
"People of great wealth said FDR was an enemy of his own class. They called him a socialist and they said Social Security is not what America should be doing," Hrabowski said. "FDR said we're better than that. America is better than that."
Hraboswski, whose far-reaching comments ranged from philosophy to immigration policy, concluded with a story about his mother. A long-time teacher of English, Hrabowksi's mother, when she sensed her life was nearing an end, told him "Teachers touch eternity through their students."
Hrabowski modified the sentiment for the audience.
"The people you touch through your policies will be the way you touch eternity," Hrabowski said."
Hrabowksi's talk was something of a departure for the academy.
"I thought it was interesting to see the cross-referencing from another discipline," said Alan Weil, NASHP executive director.
Other speakers this week include Richard Gilfillan, director of the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation, and Andrew Webber, president and CEO of the National Business Coalition on Health. Breakout sessions are planned on a variety of issues including innovative payment reforms for subsidized health coverage, beefing up the health care workforce, movement toward managed Medicaid, children's health coverage and long-term care.
NASHP's three-day conference ends Wednesday.