As health care is transformed by pressures to reduce spending and improve quality, the future presents new opportunities for collaborations between hospitals, doctors, insurance companies, brokers and employers, according to participants at a conference Thursday in Woodbridge that gathered these stakeholder together for a conversation on how to make the nation’s health care system deliver results that include a healthier America.
The conference, at the Woodbridge Hilton, was convened by the law firm Gibbons P.C. and the Summit Medical Group, New Jersey’s largest multispecialty physician practice.
Dr. Christopher Olivia, CEO of West Penn Allegheny Health System, negotiated the acquisition of that hospital system by the insurer Highmark, which he told the conference present an example “of how things are changing.” Faced with a future of declining reimbursements for hospitals, which are a high-cost delivery system, West Penn made the decision to merge with an insurer, he said. Hospitals may need to become better integrated into a larger system that includes physician practices, ambulatory surgery centers and health insurance, as the industry faces “tremendous pressures that are not going to be fixed by changes around the margin,” Olivia said.
Barry Ostrowsky, president of St. Barnabas Health Care System, noted his organization, which operates six hospitals, is a major New Jersey employer with 20,000 employees.
“The starting point has to be some basically objective analysis as to what the contribution is of each of the participants” in the debate, he said. “I can’t argue with the point that we (hospitals) are expensive places to deliver health care.”
He said years ago, he urged insurers to work with St. Barnabas to figure out how to make health care more efficient — but at the time, insurers were not interested. “So we negotiated (with insurers), and the stronger we became, the better the prices were that we received. And that is an unsustainable relationship, and it is not one that will allow us to prosper in the future.”
He said he views St. Barnabas “as being in the social service business.”
“It would be my preference to deliver a business plan so that our enterprise can succeed going forward by making sure people can stay healthy. … If that makes us have to shrink or otherwise change the platform of our organization, we shall do it.”
Not a lot of confidence
Charles Wall, senior vice president of human resources for United Water, said his company strives to “attract and retain and reward people, and we look at health care as a differentiator as we go forward.” He said United Water pays $18,000 to $24,000 a year for family coverage for self-funded plans. “We have engaged in all the cost shifting that is possible, we have done wellness programs, we have done everything to bend the cost curve,” all to little avail.
“I have been doing this for 40 years, and looking back over time doesn’t give me a lot of confidence that even the changes that are coming out of Congress are really going to be sufficient to change the system that the employers in the U.S. are paying for.”
Hercules Angelatos, senior vice president for Piscataway-based Hapag-Lloyd, the ocean shipping company, said health costs for his 800 employees and their families continue to rise by double digits, though the company provides generous benefits in order to remain competitive in the industry.
“Education to change employee behavior has helped to curb the escalating cost” of health coverage, he said; Hapag-Lloyd gives health premium credits to encourage workers to quit smoking, and provides health risk assessments and weight-loss programs.