ACHP Symposium 2013: Collaborative Learning

Last week, the ACHP board of directors and its member plans’ boards of directors convened for the 2013 ACHP Symposium in sunny Austin, Texas. A record number of board members and senior executive leaders from ACHP member plans attended the conference, where a diverse array of health care industry leaders and experts offered their outlooks on critical issues facing health care consumers, providers and insurers.

The symposium offers an ideal opportunity for ACHP members to network with one another, a valuable chance that most attendees fully embrace. Gaining distance from one’s own community and discussing pressing issues with colleagues across the nation affords members new perspectives, amidst a backdrop of transparency and collaboration (an atmosphere enhanced by the warm climate and affable community). Networking allows member plans to share best practices, learn from each other’s successes and mistakes and pool their knowledge together as they chart the path forward.

In light of the evolving policy arena and shifting marketplaces, discussions on how to increase the value of health care in communities and lower the cost burden featured prominently in the speakers’ presentations. The Triple Aim goal of better health, better patient experience and lower costs was also a pervasive theme.

Michael Cropp, M.D., president and CEO of Independent Health and chair of ACHP’s Board of Directors, affirmed that Independent Health is working to make coverage more affordable while optimizing customer satisfaction and boosting quality and prevention efforts.

Raymond Baxter, Kaiser Permanente’s senior vice president of community benefit, research and health policy, discussed community benefit programs. Baxter affirmed that in order to move the needle toward good health, health plans must look more broadly at the notion of community benefit. He advocated for a social approach to promoting health and wellness in communities, by partnering with schools, workplaces and religious institutions.

Health insurance exchanges were another hot topic. Joel Ario, the first director of the federal office overseeing the health insurance exchanges, gave an in-depth look into what health plans can expect in the coming months and years regarding health exchange implementation. Ario detailed what the marketplaces are expected to look like: Web-based platforms with two main portals for individual insurance and employer-based insurance. Predicting what is likely to be a long-term trend away from traditional employer-based coverage, Ario stated that he expects more states to operate their own exchanges in the future, so as not to cede state authority over health insurance markets.

Of course, the health care cost crisis figured largely into many speakers’ and panelists’ presentations and discussions. Harvard University health economist Katherine Baicker reframed the health care cost issue as a “value” issue, stating that we are not spending too much on health care, but that we are not getting the health value for the nearly 20 percent of gross domestic product the nation spends on this industry. It is a challenging problem, she said, made even tougher in the face of current federal tax and health policy.

Baicker cited employer exclusion, a tax subsidy worth more than $200 billion a year for employer-provided health insurance, as a key culprit in driving up costs for everyone. The subsidy is inefficient — encouraging the purchase of more coverage — and regressive, with higher income earners getting a bigger benefit.

Maureen Bisognano, president and CEO of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, closed the meeting by stating that in order to improve population health, the conversation must move from an emphasis on “what’s the matter” to asking patients, “What matters to you?” This reframing underscores the importance of patients’ perspectives on health care as stakeholders transform the system into one that puts the patient at the center.

 

While speakers, panelists and attendees of the Symposium asserted a myriad of opinions on the best policies for improving health care and lowering costs, there was pervasive agreement that health plans and local governments must keep the ultimate goal of affordable, quality care for all citizens — ACHP’s mission statement — at the forefront of the discussion.

“Our collective mission — to actively lead the transformation of health care in our communities to promote high quality, affordable care and superior consumer experience—is a pretty reliable North Star,” noted ACHP President and CEO Patricia Smith.

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