Health Benefits Forum a Success

14th February 200510:57 am

February 14, 2005

The Feb. 9 Health Benefits Forum was a big success. Elected officials and senior managers from more than a dozen local jurisdictions participated, including the County of Santa Clara, the cities of Palo Alto, Redwood City, Saratoga, Sunnyvale, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Santa Clara, as well as representatives from Cabrillo College, City College of San Francisco, West Valley-Mission College, and the Sunnyvale School District. Elected or appointed officials from the following agencies also joined us: the California Medical Board, SEIU, the Palo Alto Firefighters, the office of state Senator Joe Simitian, the office of Assemblywoman Rebecca Cohn, the office of San Jose City Councilmember Linda Lezotte, and the 6th District PTA. I hope everyone else who was there will forgive me for leaving them out!

The presentations and panel discussions were lively and informative. My co-moderator, Los Altos Hills councilman and VTA Advisory Board member Breene Kerr, arranged to have D.R. & Associates videotape most of the proceedings. I understand arrangements are being made to make highlights available on the web shortly.

One of the key presentations came from Sally Covington, director of the California Works Foundation, which is a project of the California Labor Federation. Covington outlined an ambitious plan to form statewide civic coalitions to help local government agencies combine their purchasing power in order to obtain better deals on health care insurance for their employees. Several specific strategies to accomplish this objective were discussed. Here is an excerpt from her email to me on the general goals of her group:

“The members of our coalition purchase health services for about 500,000
beneficiaries in Northern California, including school employees, grocery
clerks, carpenters, tower crane operators, and other workers employed in a
mix of industries. We are eager to participate in broader public forums
that focus on the adverse impact of rising health care costs on public
health and finance systems, workers’ wages, health care access, and health
care quality. We are also eager to disseminate information about the
Coalition’s basic strategy — namely, to organize major public and private
purchasers to get behind a set of common demands, or performance standards,
aimed at improving the transparency and accountability of the health care
industry.”

One of the other highlights was a presentation from Dr. Peter Boland, a leading healthcare industry consultant, author and speaker. Boland provided a ten-point outline of the major challenges confronting the health care system and those who depend on it. He favored the idea of creating local civic coalitions to press for positive change in the health care system but strongly urged our group to also include health care providers (as in physicians, physician groups, and hospitals) in the discussions.

Many of those present were interested in exploring the idea of forming a local health care benefits civic coalition. I’ll be meeting shortly with Los Altos Councilmember Breene Kerr, Foothill-De Anza Chancellor Martha Kanter and De Anza College President Brian Murphy to determine how we can best support that effort. We’ll also be working closely with Santa Clara County Supervisor Jim Beall, who spoke at the event and volunteered to help with the effort. Stay tuned. This could get interesting.

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