Thursday, March 18, 2010

Pittsburgh human resource executives brave snow to hear panel talk about health care and health insurance.

“It was snowing and it was going to snow.” That’s how the American poet Wallace Stevens once described a scene, and it certainly applied to Pittsburgh when I was there on February 16th to be part of the panel at the Pittsburgh Business Group on Health (PBGH)’s 8th annual Health Care Executive Leadership Forum.

All that snow on the ground and more falling, and yet the house was packed with human resource, benefits and finance executives from a wide range of western Pennsylvania employers. They had come to hear the views of 8 speakers, including representatives of 6 regional health insurance companies.

Christine Whipple, PBGH’s smart and savvy executive director, moderated the panel, which included:

• John F. Delaney, Jr., MD, DrPH, Chair, Department of Psychiatry, West Penn Hospital and President, Allegheny County Medical Society
• Diane Holder, President and CEO, UPMC Health Plan
• Patrick McGinn, Regional Head, MidAtlantic & Southeast National Accounts
• Norman F. Mitry, President & CEO, Heritage Valley Health System
• Dan O'Malley, Market President, Pennsylvania Western Region, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield
• Mary Lou Osborne, Regional President, HealthAmerica
• Marcie Popek, New Business Manager, Great Lakes Market, CIGNA Healthcare

And me.

We each had about 7 minutes to make a state of the union message about our organizations, after which there was a lively and long Q&A session. The questions reflected what I’m routinely asked by employers throughout the state: How we can use technology to lower cost in the health care system? What is the future of “accountable care organizations,” which are health care systems that reward doctors for teamwork and patient outcomes? What are the advantages of consumer-directed health plans such as health savings accounts (HSA)? The questions show that like UnitedHealthcare and many other insurers, employers are interested in both cutting costs and improving the quality of care.

A funny thing happened, though, in the informal settings like registration and during the break. I fielded a lot of questions in these less formal settings, and it was mostly the same question, “What is it going to take to create real competition in the Pittsburgh marketplace for health insurance?”

My answer was and is simple: You don’t have to wait for real competition. It’s here now! UnitedHealthcare is not new to the market. We’ve been here for six years. We’re an established presence and we’re already bringing innovative options to the market. We have a strong network of over 85 hospitals and more than 20,000 health care providers serving Pennsylvania. We’re one of the few health plans that are growing statewide.

The PBGH is a great forum for asking and answering the tough questions about health care and health insurance. As it says on its website, PBGH “strives to improve the delivery, cost and quality of health care through its quality and data initiatives, and by providing forums for the exchange of ideas and viewpoints.” You can find more about PBGH and an audio recording of the speaker remarks at the PBGH website.

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