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Signs of Progress

September 6, 2013

I have to share something with my readers. One of my think tank partners, Chris Gregory, recently posted a nice summary of some of the work being done in DFW to share ideas on how to lower healthcare costs for everyone. Chris’ blog is at www.doconomics.com/blog/.

I was fortunate to be able to speak at the first symposium and attend the second meeting, at which the speakers did a great job, which led to an excellent discussion afterwards. Dianne Kiehl in particular told great stories of how a collaborative of 30 employers in the Milwaukee area have held health insurance costs at essentially no increase for SEVEN YEARS!

Below is Chris’ post. Enjoy.

Dallas Fort Worth HR and Benefit Executives – Considering the Challenge

Thursday, September 5th, 2013 8:41 AM by Christopher Gregory

On August 29, 2013, HR and benefit executives representing 16 of Dallas Fort Worth’s leading non-healthcare employers met to hear about a substantially different approach to the common problem of unabated rising health care costs that take a painful toll on these companies and their employees.

Eighteen months ago, a group of healthcare thought leaders from around the country joined into conversations and communications regarding the misdirection and misinformation about healthcare and the impact when employer and employee health care resources are lost in an unchecked environment of excessive and wasteful spending. A collective decision was made to hold a meeting in a major healthcare market and DFW was chosen as ground zero for a movement to promote change.

On February 11 of this year, with the assistance and hospitality of Southern Methodist University, a symposium was presented to DFW employers. Six recognized, knowledgeable experts in healthcare lent their perspectives to different facets of the healthcare challenge abundantly evident in Dallas Fort Worth. Following the SMU symposium, followup evaluations evidenced attendees’ reactions to revelations about certain healthcare notions. Some attendees indicated their surprise to hear a respected physician debunk myths about early testing, diagnoses, interventions and treatments, i.e., that too much and too soon yields negative economies that can lead to both physical and financial harm. Another presenter demonstrated the significant quality disparities among DFW area hospitals, especially for given conditions (e.g., costly heart and spinal procedures).

The February symposium closed with a recommendation that employers establish a claims data warehouse to collect information on the spending by collaborative non-healthcare employers. It would be an actionable step toward collectively influencing and controlling the rising costs of care through an employer-directed and employer-controlled high performing network of hospitals, physicians and suppliers in the DFW area.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway has taken on a committed role in this initiative by recognizing, advocating for and promoting the notion that employers working together can constitute an effective counterweight to the substantial influence healthcare providers exert on the directions and costs of healthcare in the Dallas Fort Worth metropolitan market.

On August 29, Part 2 of the initiative effort took place, hosted at Burlington Northern Santa Fe’s corporate campus. Again, HR and benefits executives of some of the area’s most prominent nationally headquartered companies attended to hear two presentations.

The first presentation was given by Dianne Kiehl, Executive Director of the Business Health Care Group in Milwaukee. She told how the CEOs of 14 prominent companies headquartered in Wisconsin authorized a unique campaign in the southeastern corner of Wisconsin to take on the challenge  of their healthcare costs that were running 39% higher than the Midwest average. She  explained how employer resolve and a straightforward action plan of innovative bargaining brought the cost of companies’ healthcare to a near flat rate of growth in aggregate costs over the past seven years. It is important to mention that over many hours preceding the 8/29 meeting, a group of progressive leaders at other highly successful non-healthcare employer collaboratives around the country lent advice and stories of success to offer indisputable evidence that collectively, employers can have a dramatic impact on cost controls and quality improvements in their markets. Attendees were cautioned that the environment is ripe for this type of a change initiative and now is the time to bring together the strengths of non-healthcare employers who pay extraordinary amounts for health care.

The second presentation was by a respected national data analytics firm. Truven Health Analytics demonstrated the methods and the strategies that will enable the data warehouse project to produce data that enables collaborating employers to commence a data-grounded campaign to selectively contract for a high performing cost and quality network of hospital, physician and service providers. At all times (and particularly at renegotiation times) the provider network data would be sufficiently transparent to enable ongoing surveillance and negotiations for the benefit of the employer network.

Our meeting host challenged the HR and benefit executives, noting the mindset of many that HR and benefits executives rely on incremental, non-disruptive steps and do not act aggressively enough to bring about real change (perhaps too much reliance on consultants?). The call was simple – the idea works – you’ve heard it presented today. The call to action was made to HR and benefits executives: agree to a collective effort dedicated to a common goal to bring about effective cost control and quality improvement so desperately needed by employers and employees in DFW and around the country.

There should be no doubt that other areas around the country will watch DFW. If this innovative step can take place in a major corporate area like DFW, it can become a fulcrum for change around the country. What is needed is common purpose and dedication by a few leaders to make this happen.

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