Re­form (and a side of base­ball)

MGMA con­ven­tion ad­dresses ‘chal­lenges’ of care

Modern Healthcare - - The Week In Healthcare - An­dis Robeznieks

With base­ball play­offs and a Se­nate Fi­nance Com­mit­tee vote on health­care re­form in the back­ground, some 4,500 peo­ple met last week for the Med­i­cal Group Man­age­ment As­so­ci­a­tion’s 83rd an­nual con­fer­ence held in the group’s Den­ver home­town.

Af­ter the Colorado Rock­ies were elim­i­nated from the post-sea­son in two frigid night games at Coors Field, health­care re­form be­came even more of a fo­cus at the con­fer­ence be­ing held— ac­cord­ing to Ya­hoo Maps mea­sure­ment—1.2 miles away at the Den­ver Con­ven­tion Cen­ter on Oct. 11-14. It did ap­pear, how­ever, that ex­pec­ta­tions had been con­sid­er­ably low­ered for any­thing mean­ing­ful hap­pen­ing in Wash­ing­ton.

“They’re go­ing to do some­thing,” said key­note speaker T.R. Reid, au­thor of the book The Heal­ing of Amer­ica: A Global Quest for Bet­ter, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care. “The Democrats are go­ing to pass a bill and call it a victory.”

The con­fer­ence be­gan with a talk from Ezekiel Emanuel, head of the Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health Clin­i­cal Cen­ter’s Bioethics Depart­ment and a White House Of­fice of Man­age­ment and Bud­get health-pol­icy ad­viser, who spoke in fa­vor of a “high touch” ap­proach to health­care. This ap­proach, he ex­plained, would re­duce high-cost hos­pi­tal­iza­tions by in­creas­ing pri­mary-care in­ter­ac­tions, in­clud­ing of­fice vis­its and con­sul­ta­tions over the tele­phone or via e-mail.

Emanuel, whose brother Rahm serves as White House chief of staff, pref­aced his talk by say­ing the opin­ions he ex­pressed were his own.

In his key­note speech, MGMA Pres­i­dent and CEO William Jessee noted the usual list of prob­lems or—as he called them—“chal­lenges” fac­ing the U.S. health­care sys­tem, but then ex­plained the rea­sons why he was op­ti­mistic that the sit­u­a­tion would im­prove. Th­ese in­clude how a frag­mented sys­tem is be­ing re­placed with organized net­works of care, and how the grow­ing use of in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy is help­ing with that as well as cut­ting costs and im­prov­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion with pa­tients.

He also blasted po­lit­i­cal “fear-mon­ger­ing.” On the pos­i­tive side, Jessee noted that more Amer­i­cans than ever be­fore are en­gaged in pub­lic di­a­logue and dis­course over health in­sur­ance cov­er­age—and some of it “is even civil.”

“Ex­clud­ing cov­er­age for pre-ex­ist­ing con­di­tions is sim­ply un­fair,” Jessee said, dur­ing his

speech. “And mak­ing wind­fall prof­its from ... health in­sur­ance is im­moral.”

Med­i­cal prac­tice in­ter­ac­tions with health plans re­mained a reg­u­lar theme through the meet­ing. On Oct. 12, MGMA re­leased the re­sults of a sur­vey of 1,700 med­i­cal prac­tice pro­fes­sion­als who ranked Medi­care Part B over six pri­vate plans. Al­though Medi­care Part B fin­ished last in ease of provider cre­den­tial­ing, its con­sis­tency in com­mu­ni­ca­tion, con­tract­ing, pay­ment poli­cies and sys­tem trans­parency, and over­all sat­is­fac­tion earned it a 3.59 sat­is­fac­tion score on a one-to-five scale.

Sev­eral “Wash­ing­ton Up­date” ses­sions were held and were well-at­tended. At an Oct. 12 ses­sion, an au­di­ence mem­ber asked why the hospi­tal lobby al­ways seems to make out bet­ter than the physi­cians’ lobby in Wash­ing­ton.

“We have failed to keep physi­cian groups to­gether,” replied Pat Smith, a se­nior vice pres­i­dent in MGMA’s gov­ern­ment af­fairs depart­ment. In the past, Smith ex­plained, hos­pi­tals, trial lawyers and health plans have been more ef­fec­tive in com­ing to­gether to pro­mote a mes­sage, while physi­cian groups have not had this level of co­he­sion. This time around, how­ever, he said, physi­cians are do­ing a bet­ter job at get­ting their points across.

The MGMA was not im­mune to the ef­fects of the econ­omy as con­fer­ence at­ten­dance fell about 15.1% to about 4,500 com­pared with the ap­prox­i­mately 5,300 peo­ple who at­tended last year’s con­fer­ence in San Diego. Paid at­ten­dance was listed at about 2,200 which was said to be down 20%. The num­ber of ex­hibitors was down 10.7% to 324 from 363.

—with Jes­sica Zig­mond and Paul Barr

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