Coming Soon! Healthcare Reform. Will it have a happy ending?

IMAG0110 I’m writing this today from the beautiful Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Los Angeles; just a stone’s throw away from the tony enclave of Beverley Hills and Rodeo Drive.  From my room on the 18th floor of the hotel I look out at the MGM Tower and the Fox studio lot.  The setting seems appropriate for the 2009 MGMA Academic Practice Management Conference where I will deliver a keynote address later this afternoon.

The MGMA Academic Practice Management Conference is a gathering of several hundred  business managers representing IMAG0104America’s teaching hospitals and medical schools. I arrived in time yesterday for the opening keynote by Dr. Atul Grover, chief advocacy officer and strategist for the Association of American Medical College’s advocacy agenda.  Dr. Atul provided a riveting, and often comedic, history of America’s healthcare reform efforts over the past 50 years.  It reminded me of a movie plot, and a bad one at that. Clearly, the Obama administration’s focus on healthcare reform has these guys wondering if government will be friend or foe when it comes to supporting academic medicine.  The economy is already taking its toll on this group, at least as measured by conference attendance which organizers tell me is down almost 50 percent from previous years.

IMAG0106 You can learn a lot at an event like this by visiting the conference exhibit hall.  At this particular conference, there isn’t the usual focus on EMRs, medical equipment, or even pharmaceuticals.  Instead, it is all about how to get paid for what you do.  At least two dozen exhibitors are here promoting their “revenue cycle enhancement” services or medical coding and billing solutions.  It makes you realize how much money is spent on solutions and services devoted to nothing more than processing payments for healthcare.  It seems to me there must be a better way, but I’m not sure we are going to find it with healthcare reform legislation from politicians in Washington.  Have the many reforms to our tax code made filing your tax return any less painful? I think not! Is there at least 30 percent administrative waste in our healthcare system?  I’d say yes; possibly more.  Do I think anyone in Washington D.C. is going to fix it?  Sadly, no. 

Later today, I move across town to the Four Seasons Hotel at Westlake Village where I will join the Council on Employee Benefits for their annual conference.  I deliver a keynote address there tomorrow before returning back to Seattle.   It should be an interesting contrast moving from a conference where everyone is focusing on how to get paid more, or at least not less for what they do, to one focusing on how to pay less for healthcare, or at least pay no more. And so it goes…… just like a twisted movie plot.

Bill Crounse, MD     Senior Director, Worldwide Health      Microsoft Corporation

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