Banking & Finance

More Than 500 Hear Health Care Execs Talk About Reform

By Alison Lee Satake, posted Jun 10, 2010

Business leaders of the area’s largest healthcare providers shared their insights into how the passage of the federal healthcare reform bill has begun to affect the industry here today.

“It’s a first step,” said Jack Barto, president and CEO of New Hanover Regional Medical Center (NHRMC). “It was not healthcare reform. It’s health insurance reform.” Barto was one of the panelists who presented at this morning’s Power Breakfast by Greater Wilmington Business Journal. He was accompanied on stage by Jeff James, CEO of Wilmington Health Associates, Charles Long, executive director for Davis Health Care Center, Garland Scott, CEO for UnitedHealthcare of North Carolina and South Carolina and William Sharbaugh, PPD Inc.’s chief operating officer.

Cost of the reform was a main concern for the business leaders. “Who’s paying for it is mostly everyone in this room,” Sharbaugh said to a sold-out crowd of about 500 local business people at the Hilton Riverside. The pharmaceutical industry, which makes up most of PPD’s clientele, funded a portion of the legislation, he said.

The panelists reported that this year, wellness provisions will be made in North Carolina as well as tax breaks for small business owners who provide health insurance for at least 50 percent of their workers. In expectation of mandates to come, PPD started covering employees’ dependents under the age of 26 this month, Sharbaugh said.

The panel participants anticipated the state health option exchanges, where individuals and small business will be able to shop for competitively priced health insurance options that rival what large companies offer their employees. The “exchanges” will come into affect by 2014.

The reforms are spurring change within local organizations already. The hospital will implement an aggressive wellness program for its 4,000 employees, Barto said. Employees will be encouraged to take health assessments which will incentivize healthier lifestyle choices, he said. Barto said by changing his lifestyle to include more exercise and healthier foods, he lost about 31 pounds. He said he’s also going off all medications. “We’re going to support employees to change,” he said. NHRMC employees who smoke already pay a higher premium for their health insurance.

The Davis Health Care Center will open a new rehabilitation center with wellness programs, which it will offer to its employees as well, Long said. Meanwhile PPD has an in-house clinic staffed by a nurse practitioner for employees, which reduces the time they would have to take to go to a doctor’s office for acute health issues, Sharbaugh said.

Wilmington Health Associates and NHRMC are linking their patients’ electronic medical records to coordinate care, James said. Still though, there’s not enough transparency from insurance companies, he said. Insurance contract confidentiality clauses block providers, such as WHA, from knowing how much their competitors are paying for similar insurance contracts, he said. The effect is the equivalent of going to the store and not being able to see any of the prices until after its wrung up at the register, he said. “We ought be able to share what we pay insurance companies with you,” he said.

Echoed by a few panelists was the advantage the region has over other parts of the country in adapting creatively to the healthcare reforms. “Southeast North Carolina is creative enough to enhance care,” Barto said. Improved healthcare will have a major impact for people thinking of relocating here in the future, he said.

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