With baseball playoffs and a Senate Finance Committee vote on healthcare reform in the background, some 4,500 people met last week for the Medical Group Management Association's 83rd annual conference held in the group's Denver hometown.
Reform (and a side of baseball)
MGMA convention addresses 'challenges' of care
After the Colorado Rockies were eliminated from the post-season in two frigid night games at Coors Field, healthcare reform became even more of a focus at the conference being held—according to Yahoo Maps measurement—1.2 miles away at the Denver Convention Center on Oct. 11-14. It did appear, however, that expectations had been considerably lowered for anything meaningful happening in Washington.
“They're going to do something,” said keynote speaker T.R. Reid, author of the book The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care. “The Democrats are going to pass a bill and call it a victory.”
The conference began with a talk from Ezekiel Emanuel, head of the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center's Bioethics Department and a White House Office of Management and Budget health-policy adviser, who spoke in favor of a “high touch” approach to healthcare. This approach, he explained, would reduce high-cost hospitalizations by increasing primary-care interactions, including office visits and consultations over the telephone or via e-mail.
Emanuel, whose brother Rahm serves as White House chief of staff, prefaced his talk by saying the opinions he expressed were his own.
In his keynote speech, MGMA President and CEO William Jessee noted the usual list of problems or—as he called them—“challenges” facing the U.S. healthcare system, but then explained the reasons why he was optimistic that the situation would improve. These include how a fragmented system is being replaced with organized networks of care, and how the growing use of information technology is helping with that as well as cutting costs and improving communication with patients.
He also blasted political “fear-mongering.” On the positive side, Jessee noted that more Americans than ever before are engaged in public dialogue and discourse over health insurance coverage—and some of it “is even civil.”
“Excluding coverage for pre-existing conditions is simply unfair,” Jessee said, during his speech. “And making windfall profits from ... health insurance is immoral.”
Medical practice interactions with health plans remained a regular theme through the meeting. On Oct. 12, MGMA released the results of a survey of 1,700 medical practice professionals who ranked Medicare Part B over six private plans. Although Medicare Part B finished last in ease of provider credentialing, its consistency in communication, contracting, payment policies and system transparency, and overall satisfaction earned it a 3.59 satisfaction score on a one-to-five scale.
Several “Washington Update” sessions were held and were well-attended. At an Oct. 12 session, an audience member asked why the hospital lobby always seems to make out better than the physicians' lobby in Washington.
“We have failed to keep physician groups together,” replied Pat Smith, a senior vice president in MGMA's government affairs department. In the past, Smith explained, hospitals, trial lawyers and health plans have been more effective in coming together to promote a message, while physician groups have not had this level of cohesion. This time around, however, he said, physicians are doing a better job at getting their points across.
The MGMA was not immune to the effects of the economy as conference attendance fell about 15.1% to about 4,500 compared with the approximately 5,300 people who attended last year's conference in San Diego. Paid attendance was listed at about 2,200 which was said to be down 20%. The number of exhibitors was down 10.7% to 324 from 363.
—with Jessica Zigmond and Paul Barr
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