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Business-Health Coalition Focuses on Effectiveness of Chronic Care

By Lydia Gensheimer, CQ Staff

March 19, 2008 -- At a summit on Wednesday highlighting innovative programs for chronically ill patients, a mix of labor unions and health care providers said health care change cannot be addressed without reshaping the current approach to chronic care.

Hosted by the Partnership for Quality Care, the event is the first of a year-long series focusing on the effectiveness of care. The coalition, which comprises labor organizations like the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and major health care providers, launched last May to focus the national health care debate on quality care issues.

The coalition advocates for universal health care coverage and argues that the quality of health care—which includes access, affordability, efficiency, and cost containment—must be a central component to any universal health care debate.

Dennis Rivera, chairman of SEIU Healthcare and of the Partnership for Quality Care, said he expects an "intense debate" about the future of health care next year, and the coalition, he said, intends to have a voice in that debate.

Kenneth Raske, president of the Greater New York Hospital Association, said the partnership is not advocating that Congress just "throw money at the issue." Instead, he said, the coalition will determine which practices increase the quality of care, and will use those lessons "when it comes time to enact universal coverage."

"This conference is about what works," Raske said.

Wednesday's summit at Union Station's Columbus Club highlighted unique programs aimed at improving the quality of chronic care while containing costs for both providers and patients. Leaders of the coalition said that 30 percent of people—most with chronic conditions—account for more than 70 percent of health care costs in the United States.

One program featured at Wednesday's forum was a Kaiser Permanente initiative that the health insurer says has helped reduce heart disease mortality among its members in northern California by 30 percent. It prescribed generic medications to patients with high blood pressure and used preventive programs in an attempt to expand care while controlling costs.

Sal Rosselli, president of SEIU UHW-West, praised Kaiser Permanente for the "whopping" 30-percent decrease, which he said was possible "just by fixing the infrastructure."

Also highlighted on Wednesday was a post-discharge support program administered through Catholic Healthcare West that helped patients discharged from the hospital monitor their diseases. The group said the program has reduced health care costs by 28 percent.

George Halvorson, chairman and CEO of Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals, said some of the pioneering programs to address chronic care are examples that "take your breath away."

Both Halvorson and Andrew Stern, president of SEIU, called the 2008 presidential campaign "exciting" because the health care debate has focused on the nuances of mandated health care instead of on whether or not the nation will have universal health care.

Stern placed special emphasis on the fact that for the first time in history, every Democratic presidential candidate has presented a universal health care plan.

He stressed the need for a fundamental, not incremental, health care plan, and said there would be "a moment in 2009" to get this done.

"The time is now, America can't wait," Stern said.

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