(L-R) Eugene Anderson, Dean, School of Business
Better technology integration, greater collaboration among providers and higher co-pays for patients are among the ways to address the high cost of U.S. health care, according to leading policymakers and practitioners speaking at the School of Business Administration's January 17 conference, "The Business of Health Care: Bending the Cost Curve."
However, there is no clear path ahead for reducing overall costs while improving the quality of care.
"Making health insurance available to Americans through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was the first step," said Diane Rowland, executive vice president, Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and executive director, Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured.
"Our job now is to get the delivery system into better shape to deliver better outcomes for the U.S. population."
Some 700 business and health care executives attended the third annual conference at BankUnited Center, hosted by the School of Business Administration's Center for Health Sector Management and Policy.
"As key provisions of the ACA are taking effect, new models of delivery and coverage are emerging," said Dean Eugene Anderson, in his opening remarks. "Our annual conference addresses the most pressing issues facing the nation in the rapidly evolving health care environment."
Steven G. Ullmann, professor and director, Programs in Health Sector Management and Policy, emphasized the importance of bringing business leaders, policymakers and providers together to share their diverse perspectives. "We all have much to learn from each other, and this is an excellent forum to facilitate those discussions," he said.
Echoing that theme, attendee David Spillers, MBA '02, CEO, Huntsville Hospital Health System, said, "I learned that the issues we are facing in Alabama are similar to those in South Florida. The conference was very helpful in stimulating my thinking about what we as a health system can do to reduce costs while continuing to improve the quality of care."
(L-R) Helen Darling, President, National Business Group on
The School's conference was supported by presenting sponsors Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Florida Blue, as well as other companies. "This promises to be a transformative year for healthcare," said John Hesselmann, executive for specialized Industries at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. "Thoughtful management of resources is critical, and there will be new opportunities for healthcare organizations as the industry grows."
Penny Schaffer, market executive Florida Blue, said the conference topics and timing were ideal. "Solving our nation's health care challenges requires a host of tools, partnerships and dialogues like this one," she said. " We believe that collaboration is key to finding real and lasting solutions."
The first of three panel discussions at the day-long conference focused on "Impact on Employers in 2014 and Beyond," with Patrick Geraghty, chairman and CEO, Florida Blue, as moderator. "Employers' three biggest concerns are cost, cost and cost," said panelist Helen Darling, president and CEO, National Business Group on Health. She cited the 2013 Milliman Medical Index which found that the annual health care costs for the typical American family of four exceeded $22,000 – while median household income was about $52,000. "What's needed is business process re-engineering," she said. "We have to change the way we deliver care."
UM President Donna E. Shalala, former U.S. Secretary, Health and Human Services, moderated the second session on "Benefits, Costs, Politics and Policy." In her comments, Shalala said, "We are all conscious of our own health, but many people don't understand their health insurance plans. That knowledge would help many patients make better decisions."
(L-R) Diane Rowland, Executive Vice President, Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation
In Washington, too many discussions about health care are dominated by simplistic ideological views, said panelist Alice Rivlin, director, Engelberg Center for Health Care Reform, Leonard D. Schaeffer Chair in Health Policy Studies, and senior fellow in economic studies, The Brookings Institution, and founding director, Congressional Budget Office.
"We need to get away from the blame game and look at how to solve the problems with our system.
In the third session, "The Impact of Change on Health Care Providers," moderator Steve Rusckowski, president and CEO, Quest Diagnostics, called for fresh approaches to the delivery of care, adding "One provider's cost savings is another provider's income reduction."
Panelist Michael Freed, president and CEO, Priority Health, and executive vice president, Spectrum Health in Michigan, said increasing the amount that individuals pay for health care and improving the management of chronic disease conditions are two strategies could help to control costs.
Technology advances, such as virtual care and centralized patient monitoring systems, can also play a role in addressing costs and improving outcomes, said Lynn Britton, president and CEO, Mercy, a four-state Midwest system. "We have 72 telemedicine programs, as well as the nation's first virtual care center," he said. "We are also looking to see where we can improve efficiency, such as using biomonitoring devices so nurses don't have to take a patient's vital signs ever six hours."
Wrapping up the conference, keynote speaker Olympia Snowe called for greater cooperation in Washington on health care issues. "We have to do better as a country," said Snowe, a former U.S. senator (R-Maine) and senior fellow, Bipartisan Policy Center. "We have to pay attention to the big issues, find common ground and move forward."