As with seemingly every other event going on these days, political and economic themes dominated discussions at the Medical Group Management Associations 82nd annual conference held Oct. 19-22 at the San Diego Convention Center.
The 5,300 attendeesup 100 from last yearheard different predictions about how the economy would affect society and how the different health plans of Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama would affect the healthcare industry, but its safe to say they also wanted to hear how these two topics would affect them personally and their individual practices.
The economic picture is not rosy, said MGMA President and Chief Executive Officer William Jessee during an Oct. 20 luncheon. When your operating expenses are going up and your income isnt, somethings got to give and a lot of things are. I think it would be naive to think our industry is going to escape that.
Jessee mentioned that one thing thats expected to happen is that medical groups will be spending less on capital investment, and he noted that the companies buying space in the conference exhibit hall depend on that capital investment, so he is concerned about how the economic uncertainty will affect next years conference.
Although Jessee reported that the MGMA finished the fiscal year with an operating margin of $638,390 and gross revenue of $26.4 million, he acknowledged that investment losses are taking their toll. For 2008, our bottom line is going to be ugly unless the market turns around fairly quickly, he said.
Though he expects the conference to look different next year, Jessee said he didnt know what to expect. However, the general thinking is that attendance at more education-oriented programs would be down while attendance at the annual conference would remain steady for two reasons: People enjoy the networking and the conference remains the main opportunity for this to occur; and its also a good time to see what products the vendors are offering.
If people are only going to go to one meeting, this is the one because this is the one chance they get to get together with more than 10% of the total membership in one place at one time, Jessee explained. Also, with 363 companies in the exhibit hall, its a great opportunity to go shopping. While they may not buy as much next year, theyll still want to shop. The number of vendors was down from 377 last year.
He added that the conference schedule was redesigned this year so that attendees would have one less overnight stay to cut down on hotel expenses, and the MGMA also was touting its Web sites new Member Community social-networking tool as a way to get together without adding to travel costs.
Cost-cutting suggestions were high on the MGMA healthcare agenda as well, as Jessee continued to promote the MGMA plan to reduce administrative complexity. This plan includes one piece of low-hanging fruit that seems to have become the organizations pet project: getting healthcare to adopt a standardized patient insurance identification card with either a bar code or magnetized stripe.
We picked this one because its so simple, even a legislator can understand it, Jessee said. One of the things were trying to point out is how primitive our system is.
The concept of patient-centered medical homes, which involves a physicianusually a primary-care doctorbeing reimbursed for coordinating the care given a patient by other specialists, was promoted at the conference.
In the political arena, Jessee noted organized medicines victory this July when Congress overrode a presidential veto of a bill that halted a 10.6% cut to Medicare payments through 2009 and made other adjustments to the program.
Everybody in the MGMA Washington office will be able to do Christmas shopping this year, Jessee said at Mondays briefing. Thats the good news; the bad news is that they really didnt fix it. They just slapped another 18-month Band-Aid on there.
During his keynote address on Oct. 21, Jessee said how neither McCain nor Obama were addressing healthcares real problem: that the current system rewards the wrong things and keeping people healthy is not the driving focus.
He added that one of the principles that healthcare system reform must include is that healthcare is a basic human right.
In a progressive, caring and wealthy country, no one should have to choose between paying the rent or paying for health insurance, Jessee told a quiet audience.
Jessee said its hard to interpret the audiences silence to his remarks, but added that several people came up to him afterward and expressed their support and agreement. He added that there wasnt much debate beforehand about whether to include that declaration, but also noted that this was his personal opinion, and not an MGMA board policy.
David Gans, vice president of the practice-management resources division at MGMA, noted that, while the remark was not met with applause, no one booed either and that there is a general agreement on the position Jessee took. From the context of a provider perspective, you dont turn anybody away who has an immediate need for care, Gans explained. Were not talking about healthcare being at no cost to the user, but that access to healthcare is a right.
In a society like ours, it ought to be a fundamental right to have access to healthcare, he said. If your financial condition precludes that, something has to be done to get you access.