Tag Archives: health care

Symposium explores healthcare crisis from every angle

Does the American healthcare industry require reform or revolution?

According to Brereton “Gubby” Barlow, CEO of Premera Blue Cross, it’s going to take a radical economic disruption to stem the runaway costs of an industry that threatens to swamp the US economy.

Barlow was the keynote speaker of the inaugural Symposium on Creating a Sustainable Healthcare System, co-hosted by Premera, one of the region’s largest healthcare insurers, and the University of Washington Foster School of Business Executive MBA Program.

The event, held October 26 at Seattle’s Bell Harbor International Conference Center, approached the overarching theme of “Economic Disruption in Healthcare” from every possible angle.

And there are many angles.

Paint it black

Barlow painted the big picture, specifically the ominous rise in health care costs as a component of the United States economy. The Congressional Budget Office reports that health care accounts for 18 percent of the nation’s GDP currently, and projects that it will account for a third of the economy by 2035 and continue climbing at a hastening clip.

“If left unchecked,” Barlow said, “health care and interest are going to bankrupt the economy.”

His solution is simple in concept if difficult in practice: clarify costs and coverage, and give consumers the power and responsibility to make their own choices.

This concept has been introduced in new high-deductible health plans that offer low premiums and tax-free healthcare savings accounts, but also impose greater out-of-pocket expenses. Barlow cited a Milliman study finding 50 percent less health spending on consumers in these new plans over traditional plans.

“We need to shelter patients from financial devastation,” he said. “But we also have to get consumers to have real skin in the game. It’s worked well in every other walk of economic life, from food to cars to computers.

Barlow emphasized that the shift of decision power in healthcare from the supply side—physicians, hospitals, government, insurers—to the demand side—consumers—is both necessary and inevitable.

“In health care finance and delivery, we’re still in the mainframe era: complex, sophisticated, extremely expensive,” said Barlow, a member of the Foster School’s Advisory Board. “Yet I’m optimistic that this is going to change for one simple reason: with health care, as with computers, when consumers get directly involved, costs will come down.”

Other perspectives

After Barlow’s keynote, the symposium program embarked on a more granular examination of the forces currently at work in the healthcare system—from Medicare to network integration to innovations in healthcare delivery—culminating in a panel focused on how to reconcile the issues.

Topics and speakers included:

“Challenges in Hospital Financing”
Edward Kim, Vice President of Goldman Sachs, Healthcare and Higher Education Group

“Economic Challenges in Biopharmaceutical R&D”
Roger M. Perlmutter, MD, Former Executive Vice President of R&D, Amgen

“Purchasing Innovation in Healthcare”
James C. Robinson, PhD, Director of the Berkeley Center for Health Technology

“Economic Impact on Provider Groups”
Lloyd David (EMBA), Executive Director/CEO, The Polyclinic

“Economic Forces in Network Integration”
Rodney F. Hochman, MD, Group President, Providence Health & Services

“New Breed Health System: Adapting Strategy to the Evolving Market Environment”
Megan Clark, Senior Consultant, Health Care Advisory Board

“Impact and Challenges of Medicare”
James C. Capretta, Fellow, Ethics and Public Policy Center

A panel attempting to reconcile these diverse issues consisted of Brian Ancell, executive vice president of Healthcare Services & Strategic Development at Premera; Don Brunell, President of the Association of Washington Business; Dan Fulton, President & CEO of Weyerhaeuser; Rod Hochman, Group President of Providence Health & Services; and Johnese Spisso, Chief Health System Officer at UW Medicine.

Founding a symposium

The symposium was devised and driven by current Foster EMBA student Dr. John Henson, a neurologist and Associate Chief Medical Director at the Swedish Neuroscience Institute. Sparked by the numerous healthcare industry questions of his EMBA classmates, Henson saw an opportunity to organize a panel rich in knowledge and experience and found a willing partner in Premera, which helped draw more than 350 participants to the symposium.

Additional sponsors were Point B Consulting, the Association of Washington Business, the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, Seattle City Club, the Washington Policy Center, and Providence Health & Services.

Wiring the future of health care

Guest post by Barbara W. Cosgriff, Foster School alumna

As the debate over health care reform continues to swirl inside and outside Washington, DC, policymakers and regulators at the federal, state and local levels have proposed myriad solutions to fix what many commentators describe as an inherently broken system. In this process, many solutions have been popularized and, unfortunately, politicized.

From this multitude of often controversial remedies, I would suggest distilling a viable solution with the potential for real reform. This idea posits a system that aligns disparate groups around a common goal: creating a wired health care system that empowers patients and payors alike to make informed decisions.

Imagine a world in which a central repository exists that enables a 360-degree view of every aspect of health care—including the data and results from the lab, from the health plan, from the pharmacy, from the hospital, and from the doctor or doctors—all organized around the patient. In this health care system, safeguards are in place that improve safety, raise the quality of care, increase access, and reduce waste—while delivering increased transparency to payors and patients.

This is—in short—a wired health care system.

But this is not some blue-sky theory, it is happening all over the country, today, through technology advances and leadership from the public and private sectors. Today’s “wired” health care system is based in large part on America’s longstanding pharmacy practice and a 1990 federal law enacted to wire pharmacies from end to end, nationwide—leveraging this system holds unleashed promise. Many companies today use this type of system to allow a pharmacist to cross-reference pharmacy data with medical data thereby providing more comprehensive treatment of chronic and complex conditions. The shift from the legacy health care system to a wired system that utilizes as its backbone the wired pharmacy coupled with tools and training, has proven to be effective in lowering costs, improving quality and increasing access.

All told, wiring health care creates a foundational opportunity to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of our health care system—and minimize waste that arises from treatment and management of complex and chronic disease, to personalized medicine and beyond. In fact, studies have estimated that efficiencies stemming from wiring health care could save an estimated $680 billion annually. In an overburdened system, that represents significant cost savings.

Several health care companies are already harnessing the savings, efficiencies and quality of care associated with a wired health care system that leverages the wired pharmacy backbone. Patients and payors receive the benefits associated with a wired health care system when they are confident medication compliance monitoring is the norm, cost-saving generic medications are widely available and treatment regimens comply with national standards of quality care.

Today’s reform debate would do well —especially for the average American—to move beyond fractious and narrow partisanship and seriously consider the benefits of building upon an existing wired foundation as a model for tomorrow’s health care system. America’s payors and, most importantly, patients, deserve no less.

Barbara Cosgriff is the former senior vice president of public policy and external affairs for Medco Health Solutions, Inc. Cosgriff holds a BA in Business Administration and Accounting from the UW Foster School of Business and an MBA in International Business from George Washington University.