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O.C. business leaders urged to help shape medical coverage for workers

Some 750 business pros were told they’ve been on silent healthcare reform

by Gabriel CortésPublished: October 16, 2012 07:45 AM

Left to right: David Lansky, Deborah Procter,
Michael Mussallem and Richard Afable
IRVINE—Extending an open invitation to the Orange County business community, a trio of healthcare officials on Monday urged owners and executives to work directly with their employees to find solutions to soaring healthcare costs that threaten the quality of medical care and coverage.
Rather then opting out of the debate, Dr. Richard Afable, Hoag Hospital Presbyterian’s CEO, told the Forum on Healthcare 2012 that the partisanship and rancor that has marked the national debate on healthcare reform for nearly two decades is “nearly behind us.”

“Now is the time to make good decisions about what we need,” Afable told the sold-out breakfast audience at the Hyatt Regency Irvine. “We will design our destiny, but the business community needs to participate.”
David Lansky, president and CEO of Pacific Business Group on Health, echoed Afable’s call to action for business owners and executives to “rise up and take control of this issue.” His biggest fear is that companies frustrated by the lack of substantive reform on healthcare or new measures to contain soaring costs will simply issue employees vouchers to find their own medical coverage or stop offering group plans altogether.

“We need businesses to be engaged in this process to help shape the future of healthcare,” said Lansky, whose company has led a coalition of 50 large employers and healthcare purchasers representing more than 3 million Californians. Asserting that employers have remained relatively silent on healthcare reform while the debate has raged in Washington, Lansky said, “Employers need to be part of the conversation in Washington.”

Both Afable and Lansky talked at length about the rapidly changing healthcare landscape from coast-to-coast. They stressed the need for innovation and leadership among employers to successfully reform healthcare and implement new strategies. The issue is significant and critical. Afable noted that by January 2014 annual spending nationally on healthcare will top $3 trillion or about 20 percent of the gross domestic product.

“It’s pretty clear we are not getting what we pay for,” warned Afable, adding that the escalating cost of healthcare in the U.S. is not sustainable, nor are the inequities in access to quality care. 

To change this course, Afable said employers need to take a direct role in finding solutions.
“Employers are not outsiders in healthcare,” he said, pointing out the need for strong collaborations between consumers, healthcare providers and employers. “Employers need to not retreat. They need to get engaged.”

St. Joseph Health CEO Deborah Procter joined Lansky and Afable for a joint question-and-answer session moderated by Michael Mussallem, chairman and CEO of Edwards Lifesciences.  During the panel discussion, Procter showed skepticism about current healthcare reform efforts.

“It’s not to say that I’m against healthcare reform. It’s quite the opposite,” she said. “But I worry that we are providing greater access to an unstable healthcare system, as opposed to stabilizing the current healthcare system and growing access.”

Proctor was much more optimistic, however, when she was asked about nurses and the role that they play in healthcare systems. Despite the challenges that the current healthcare system presents, “It’s an incredibly exciting time to be a nurse,” she said.

Afable seconded her point, agreeing that technological and medical advancements in care continue to make today “an exciting time to be a doctor.”

The Hoag Hospital Foundation and Edwards Lifesciences presented the forum.

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