Health Care: Curing A Sick Industry

October 29, 2008
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Last month, the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce sponsored, with all other regional chambers of commerce, a first annual Regional Policy Conference that brought together “serious horsepower” from across the state of Michigan. Participants included Rich De Vos and Peter Secchia, all three contract furniture manufacturing top executives, David Joos, president and CEO of CMS Energy, and 600 attendees representing businesses of every size from across the state.

After two full days of presentations and discussion, health care ranked behind only governance in the top five concerns to which each chamber will dedicate its agenda.

If were not for the frustrating lack of leadership in Michigan’s legislature, health care would undoubtedly have been the top priority. Costs now represent 16 percent of the Gross Domestic product, and the U.S. spends twice as much as other industrialized nations on health care. It is a major policy issue for both of the U.S. Presidential nominees as elections draw nigh.

One of the panel sessions on day two of the event featured ‘The Business of Health Care & Life Sciences” represented by Rick Breon, CEO Spectrum Health; Mike Faas, Metro Health CEO; Mercy Health Partners CEO Roger Spoelman; and Van Andel Institute CEO David Van Andel. The session was moderated by Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon. The panel members identified five top issues affecting an industry generally agreed to be “sick.” Panel members saw those issues as:

  • Low payments from Medicaid.

  • Legislative term limits that create huge swings in the learning curve for legislators attempting to understand the business of health care.

  • Work force development, including recruitment and training of health care professionals from nurses to physician specialties.

  • The shortage of nurses.

  • A payment system that pays providers “to do something to people, not for them.”

Conference participants spent much of their time identifying how the business world has changed and the manner in which they have moved forward, adopting change to create success. The high-minded experiences of those business owners and leaders, however, were not reflected by those representing their two top issues: those in the legislature and those in health care. Panel members talked about what ails the system — as it is not what it might become.

Health Quarterly reporter Pete Daly in this issue outlines what some creative thinkers in the business are setting as agenda items in the story “Support Grows for National Health Care.” Daly interviewed area physicians joining the national group of Physicians for a National Health Care Plan, now boasting 15,000 members.

John Cavacece, M.D., associate director of the Grand Rapids Family Medicine Residency at Saint Mary’s Health Care, is among the members of the national group. “If you are a fiscal conservative, there is no way you would consider having the system the way we have it now, because it does not do anything to control cost,” he said.

The policy conference panelists acknowledged the double-digit increase business owners have faced for more than seven consecutive years. In fact, the number of people with employment-based health care dropped by 70 percent in 1987 and by 59 percent in 2006. Much of the panelists’ discussion related to health behaviors and changing those behaviors as a significant cost containment issue, but the facts show that 80 percent of health care dollars are spent in the last stages of life.

Health care leaders must begin to think out of the boxes they have helped create. It is increasingly likely they will have less opportunity to shape the future should they not take seriously the concerns to the business community.

— Carole Valade

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