AUSTIN — The job of a health economist is to assess the risks and benefits of new, emerging, or controversial medical treatments, and then help the state determine which ones to pursue.
That’s what Melissa Belsky did as the first chief information officer at the Texas Department of Health and Human Services (HDHS), starting with a post as a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin.
Belsky has since been hired by Texas Health Resources and Services Commission (THRC), the agency charged with administering the state’s health care system.
The agency’s chief information officers, who are responsible for providing leadership for the state, have become increasingly important to the administration, which has struggled to navigate an influx of new technologies and a shift in focus from traditional, centralized, and state-run systems to decentralized and private ones.
While some health analysts have criticized the agency for its lack of transparency and oversight, others say it is in the best position to help guide the state toward health care goals while keeping costs low.
“I feel like we have a very, very good opportunity to do this,” said Belskys senior research associate, Alexi Arora.
What she brings to the job is a deep knowledge of health policy and economics.
Belskies experience in health care and technology has included roles as a senior policy analyst at the National Bureau of Economic Research, and as a deputy chief information office director at the Office of the Governor’s Budget Director.
She has been an advocate for health care innovation in the public interest, and has helped to push the Legislature to expand Medicaid, a federal program that pays for private insurance for low-income Americans.
Since leaving the job last year, Belskwys worked for the Texas Association of Health Care Providers and for the health insurance company Anthem, which operates in 27 states.
Her experience in the health care industry gives her an advantage over other health analysts who might be less well-versed in the field.
For example, her research on the role of health technology in the insurance market was part of the first paper published in the journal Health Affairs by researchers at Texas Health Science Center.
It was published in 2009 and showed that health technology providers were the largest single market for health technology.
But it also showed that consumers were more interested in buying health care services from providers who were more technologically savvy and less expensive.
But Belska’s work on the technology side of the health sector was less well known, and it took her some time to discover it.
In her spare time, she writes scientific papers and conducts interviews with patients and policymakers.
She has also been active in the nonprofit Texans for Health Reform, which is aimed at reforming health care policy in Texas.
“It’s really exciting to have someone like me who knows the field really well and has a very deep understanding of it,” she said.
Even though she is not a member of the Texas Health Policy Council, she said she is interested in helping the organization continue its efforts to help shape health care reform.
Throng has been on the job for less than a year, and Belski said her new role is not related to the work she has been doing.
At THRC, she is working on a report on state Medicaid programs, and she is also helping the agency develop plans to increase spending on the state health insurance program, which she said will help ensure that health care is affordable for Texans.
I think it’s important that we look at our overall health care spending and make sure that we’re providing the best health care to all Texans, she added.
To read more from Melissa Bensky, visit The Globe and Mail.