In truth, many attendees don't believe health reform will get us far in improving health and lowering costs. And few are fans of the so-called public option.
“If we have a public option, I can't for a moment believe the feds will fund it sufficiently,” said Ken Shachmut, executive vice president of Safeway. “It means a greater cost-shift to the private sector.”
Safeway also opposes any so-called sugar tax, or surcharge on colas and unhealthy snacks, and is against a waiver for small business on coverage requirements, he said.
Peter Lee, executive director for national health policy for the Pacific Business Group on Health called reform, “in many ways, a starting line, not a finish line.”
Health reform as designed today in Washington is, many agreed, more about access than improvement.
“It's good for folks not getting health insurance today,” said Wayne Burton, just-retired medical executive of JP Morgan Chase. “I view it as pluses and minuses.”
Employers have to keep working outside of politics to make changes, others said.
“In order to achieve the health objectives of improving the health and productivity of the population, we're going to have to do a lot not contained in the legislation,” said Cathy Baase, global director of health services at Dow Chemical Co.
In some ways, it was the opposite message from two years ago, when, at the group's Phoenix conference, Mark Smith, CEO of the California HealthCare Foundation, warned employers that they could be “on the menu” if they weren't sitting at the negotiation table in Washington.
But it's been a tough year for the coalition, which works with smaller, regional member groups and willing employers to push for value-based healthcare purchasing and other innovations to contain costs.
Conference attendance was down slightly, from nearly 500 attendees last year to 425 participants this year.
“It's a year to hunker down, stay true to our message,” said Andy Webber, president and CEO of the National Business Coalition on Health. “We can't stop what we are doing and look to Washington. The rubber meets the road with our members and in our communities.”
Insurance exchanges, the public option, death panels—these are not the focus of employers, Webber said.
“It's a distraction,” he complained.
The war on insurers is also sideshow. “That's just politics playing out,” Webber said. “We don't believe they are Darth Vader.”
There was excitement around payment reform. Robert Galvin, director of global healthcare for General Electric, gave a good synopsis of payment innovations including global payments and accountable-care organizations.
He warned that sometimes payment innovations can lead to provider consolidation and less choice and competition. “We're getting killed on costs,” he said of regions where providers have merged. “If we are going to head down this road, we need to think about what the outcome will be.”
One of the sole hospital representatives on the conference stage was Scott Malaney, president and CEO of the Blanchard Valley Health System in Findlay, Ohio, and board member of the American Hospital Association.
“There's nothing in these (health reform) plans that is going to save on costs,” Malaney said, in a moment of agreement between hospitals and employers. “Adding more people to the system is going to exacerbate the cost-shift to employers. I think that's a death spiral.”
Malaney later became defensive when questioned about hospitals' efforts to improve efficiencies and lower costs.
“I was going to wear my bull's-eye T-shirt today,” he joked. “But it was dirty.”
Rebecca Vesely reports on healthcare payers and purchasers. She covers regional healthcare business news in Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington.
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