Alliance for Health deserves local legislative support

October 1, 2012
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The Michigan Senate Economic Development Committee moved a bill to the full Senate last week that would eliminate some of the processes currently used by the Michigan Department of Community Health to eliminate health care service duplications that fuel the escalating cost of health care and health care benefits for employers.

The proposed bill includes a section that specifically eliminates the Alliance for Health as the West Michigan regional advisor to MDCH on area projects based on public hearings and discussion from every type of health care institution, business leaders and citizens.

It is a blind-sided move that defies explanation. It is void of all reason, especially to a state — and business community — rightfully concerned by a cost that is, by itself, now estimated to be almost 20 percent of the GDP. The inclusion of the section casts suspicion on the entire bill. (See the story on page 1.)

The Alliance’s work to eliminate duplication is legendary through the Hillman Commission and by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which has funded specific programs unparalleled anywhere else in the country. It is proven in study after annual study showing this region has the lowest health care costs in Michigan.

State Sen. Dave Hildenbrand, R-Lowell, a member of the committee, told the Business Journal he does not support a move to eliminate the provision for local participation in Certificate of Need decisions, but Hildenbrand was absent from the committee vote affirming the change.

Further, Hildenbrand suggests there are “good arguments for and against the Certificate of Need. I think it’s done a pretty good job about capping the cost in health care in our state, but there are other states that don’t have this kind of system in place. I think Indiana is one that has been highlighted.”

Hildenbrand is correct: The CON process has done a great job in capping the costs passed directly onto employers funding health benefit plans. To suggest otherwise defies all fact and study underscoring its success.

The suggestion that Indiana’s “free market” view of health care should be considered is incomprehensible: Health care entities are almost all nonprofit organizations that do not operate on a basis anywhere near comparison to the free market enterprise — and because lives depend on it, usually with immediacy and quick access to it.

It must be noted that the very idea of Health Systems Agencies was initiated by President Ronald Reagan under the direction of former U.S. Rep. David Stockman, R-St. Joseph, who was serving as Reagan’s director of the Department of Management and Budget.

Health systems agencies across the country ceased to exist when federal funding ran out. The Alliance remained because of the legendary West Michigan partnerships it established and private funding donated to the nonprofit Alliance. The agency receives no public funding, even from any of the 13 counties it represents. One could certainly suggest that its work should be so assisted as the chief cost-containment tool, not only for municipalities but the general citizenry.

Business leaders Bill Schoonveld of Owen-Ames-Kimball and Lacks Enterprises’ Jim Green currently have leadership positions on the Alliance board, and Irwin Seating President Win Irwin has been a long-time advocate serving on its Business Group committee. Twenty-three representatives from every regional hospital, health care company, service provider, insurance group and general citizens serve as board members.

Sen. Hilldenbrand should provide the vigorous opposition to AFH elimination his constituency of business leaders expects.

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