Healthcare purchasers in Atlanta have had difficulty forming a lasting coalition despite the fact that the city is one of the most business-savvy places in the U.S.
Two such organizations-the Atlanta Healthcare Alliance and its successor, the Georgia Business Forum on Health-fizzled earlier in the decade. Observers said those coalitions failed because the city's larger employers, multinational corporations with employees all over the globe, couldn't reap widespread purchasing benefits. The mix of large and small employers also made it difficult to reach consensus on key issues.
"Interest wanes when you don't agree and you stop going to meetings," Paul Quigley, director of health and welfare benefit planning at Georgia-Pacific Corp., said of the former coalitions.
But Quigley expressed enthusiasm about the Georgia Healthcare Leadership Council, a coalition formed in August. Its members include two dozen large employers, such as Delta Airlines, Georgia-Pacific, GTE Corp. and United Parcel Service. "Our goal is to drive quality in the managed-care system," said Quigley, who sits on the GHLC board.
The GHLC intends to accomplish that only through quality initiatives; it will not purchase benefits. It also has a new twist for a coalition: a close relationship with health plans. The coalition's participants are banding together with the former Georgia Managed Care Association, an HMO lobby that has folded itself into the GHLC.
James Purcell, president of the GHLC and former executive director of the Georgia Managed Care Association, said the new venture will fill a void that existed with past coalitions. "The health plans and employers often have the same problems," he said, noting that both sides are concerned about quality issues.
Quigley said that health plans control providers better than employers do. "This should help us get good feedback from providers, as well as the medical directors of the health plans," he said.
The coalition's first effort will be to mail a standardized set of preventive-care guidelines covering all age groups to about 3,500 primary-care physicians in Atlanta next month. The guidelines, developed by the medical directors affiliated with the Georgia Managed Care Association during the past 18 months, are printed on laminated charts that can be attached to the doors of examination rooms. The coalition will mail asthma and allergy protocols in November, followed by diabetes guidelines in the first quarter of next year.
Jim Astuto, regional manager for GTE's healthcare management group and vice chairman of the GHLC board, said a focus on quality will head off the double-digit premium increases some Atlanta employers may have faced next year.
"We figure if we can improve the quality of care, we will get better care at prices that are affordable," Astuto said.