September 21, 2006
This week’s initial meeting of the Santa Clara County Health Benefits Coalition went quite nicely. About 35 people attended the meeting, which was held in our Foothill-De Anza Community College District board room. Present were most members of the coalition as well as a few non-members in the process of joining. The Steering Committee appointed two sub-committees, one to increase the density of the local coalition and the other to produce a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for the grant writing position funded through the Coalition. The subcommittees got to work right away with initial progress made on both tasks, including what appeared to be the near-immediate membership of another large city. (I’ll let someone else make that announcement once all the i’s have been dotted and t’s crossed.)
Jim Beall, Chair of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors presided and I facilitated as we heard an informative presentation from Sally Covington, the founder and executive director of the statewide California Health Care Coalition. Sally covered lots of ground. But one of the main things that stuck with me was her description of the experience gained by a coalition-like strategy in Las Vegas, where the trend line on local health care insurance costs for covered employees was actually reversed while quality improved. The key to that achievement was a labor and management coalition that successfully pressured and rewarded health care providers into being more accountable and transparent on issues of cost, price and quality of care. Covington’s colleague, Tom Moore, drew what he thought was the obvious linkage between the potential for financial savings and widespread reports of waste, billing fraud and abuse, perhaps 30 percent or more, in the medical care delivery system. The problem, Moore said, is that no one is working in a systematic way to address those issues and force continuous improvement. Not the insurance companies, not the providers, not the government. Most of those groups are content to either look the other way or pass the charges on. Little wonder these problems fester and worsen, Moore said. He also recommended against health care cost containment strategies that rely heavily on pushing for higher co-pays or deductibles. “There is no research you can show me that says higher co-pays cuts health care costs. They just shift those costs, which continue to go up.” What’s more, higher co-pays can discourage early intervention which, in some cases, can worsen outcomes and increase costs, Covington noted.
The group remained united in its desire to focus on the goals outlined in the official resolutions that established the Coalition. No date was set for the next meeting of the Steering Committee, which is anticipated whenever the two sub-committees are ready to make progress reports and recommendations. Anyone who wants to be on the health coalition email list should contact Doug Winslow in Supervisor Jim Beall’s office or, if you like, email me and I will pass his contact info along to you.