The Colorado Hospital Association says it has labored to turn the 10-year-old state health data commission into a better information source for consumers.
Employers say CHA has worked hard all right-to kill a body that its hospital members found threatening.
By lobbying to expand the commission's authority to collect data on managed-care plans-a data requirement that plans called premature-the CHA, critics charge, effectively closed the commission's doors.
"The hospital association loved that (commission) to death," said Joan Ringel, a lobbyist for the Employers' Coalition for Healthcare Reform, a Colorado group.
Late last month, a bill to continue the commission for 10 more years failed, in part, because of the dispute over collecting data from health plans. Last-ditch efforts to reauthorize the commission before the legislative session ends May 9 are a long shot. Without the reprieve, it will die on July 1.
The Colorado Health Data Commission was created in 1985 to educate the public about the cost and quality of hospital services. Agencies in 39 other states play similar roles.
Colorado's commission struggled early on, but its recent reports helped employers compare hospitals, said Bill Lindsay, president of Benefit Management and Design, a Denver-based consulting firm.
Up for reauthorization this year, the commission asked for permission to begin collecting data on the cost and quality of health plans and surgery centers.
"We wanted people to use this information in making decisions," said Reid Reynolds, its director. "I believe it's important for the public to have access toHealthcare data
information, and I believe it's appropriate for the government to make it available. This is how democracies and free markets work."
Both providers and payers backed the commission's original proposal. Under it, health plans would provide data voluntarily. But the CHA lobbied for and won an amendment giving the commission power to require reporting from health plans if the voluntary program failed.
"It is critically important for health plans to become publicly accountable and to make a commitment to providing information to consumers," said Larry Wall, CHA president. "What this boils down to is a fairly significant philosophical difference between the hospital association and its members and the health plans."
But some observers said the CHA's lobbying effort was a smoke screen to hide the association's real motive: to destroy the commission, which has reported regularly on hospital costs and the quality of hospital care (Aug. 8, 1994, p. 26; April 11, 1994, p. 30). Such reporting was beginning to alarm CHA members, they say.
The association denies the charges, saying it has supported the commission and has worked with it to settle disagreements amicably.
For six years, the CHA also has published hospital-specific financial data, which, it says, proves its commitment to public accountability.
Regardless, health plans, once quietly supportive of the bill, grew opposed to the measure.
The science of evaluating health plans is too immature for mandatory reporting to make sense, said Linda Daniel, government-relations counsel for two Colorado plans, FHP of Colorado and Rocky Mountain HMO. Other payers echoed that view.
Meanwhile, employers took few steps to make their support of the bill known, and the commission debate received little public attention.
Payers' objections to the bill gave legislators a reason to end the commission. Several Colorado lawmakers believe government has taken on too many roles and that private industry should provide necessary services, said Jerry McElroy, Kaiser Permanente's government relations representative. "(Health-plan reporting) was kind of another rock in the boat," he said.
Lindsay said, "The business community was asleep at the wheel."