December 27, 2005
Earlier this month, County Supervisor Jim Beall and I sent written invitations to the leadership of every public agency in our County, including cities, school districts and special districts inviting them to designate a representative to attend the initial organizing meeting of the Santa Clara County Health Benefits Coalition, the need for which was first discussed earlier this year. The meeting will take place Friday, January 6, 2006 from 2:00 to 4:00PM in the Kirsch Environmental Studies Building at De Anza College in Cupertino. De Anza College President Dr. Brian Murphy will be the facilitator of the meeting.
Here is what Jim and I hope we can accomplish:
First, we are hoping we can get attendees to agree to take a resolution back to their public agencies for approval asap. The resolution indicates their public agencies’ support and intent to participate in the Health Benefits Coalition and conveys a willingness on the part of their agency to contribute a modest sum of money, based on a sliding scale, to a coordinating local non-profit organization to be identified later the proceeds of which will be used to hire a qualified grant writer to solicit grants for a two-year Health Benefits Coalition regional pilot project. Second, we hope to get attendees to agree to a mission statement for the Health Benefits Coalition. There will also be presentations from others who are working to increase quality and lower costs connected to providing health care benefits to local public employees. We will also get information about the benefits of linking this local coalition with one currently operating at the state level.
Personally, one of my biggest initial hopes for this local coalition, if we can in fact bring it together, will be to press local health care providers to post the prices they charge for the most common medical procedures on their web sites in a common format. This approach has worked, meaning it has helped drive down or contain prices, in other areas. The reform is similar to the consumer protection laws put in place decades ago that require the operators of gas stations to post their prices in a common format that everyone can see. That law helped create price competition in the retail gasoline industry, which, up until then, was free to charge different prices to different customers, who often learned the cost only after the fuel was pumped. The same practices currently apply in the health care industry. And they will go on until and unless the consumers of those services band together to demand greater degrees of openness and transparency in the billing procedures for medical services. That is something no city or other public agency can hope to accomplish on its own. But, working together regionally, we might just be able to make it happen.