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New state-focused healthcare commission formed

A new healthcare commission announced last week will focus on developing state-level policies aimed at reducing the cost of care while improving quality.

Called the State Health Care Cost Containment Commission, the new organization will be housed at the University of Virginia's Miller Center, a nonpartisan research institute that focuses on, among other things, public policy. It is being funded, initially, by Kaiser Permanente and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and chaired by former HHS Secretary and Utah Governor Mike Leavitt and former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter.

"Most public policy transformation in the United States such as clean air, welfare reform and even healthcare for the uninsured started in the states," said Leavitt in a January press conference announcing the commission. "States continue to be the laboratory for public policy change."

Providing direct support to states to help with their healthcare policies makes sense, Leavitt noted, because the healthcare landscape varies significantly from state to state. "While a market-based approach might work best in Mississippi, a more regulatory approach might work better in Maryland or Vermont," he said.

But the commission also wants to take a pragmatic approach to providing guidance and recommendations that will also take into account the politics of the individual states.

"We as a commission are going to look comprehensively for practical cost control strategies that states can actually utilize," said George Halvorson, chairman and CEO of Kaiser Permanente at the press briefing. "It is going to be important to have a continuum of options that will have appeal across the political spectrum."

Some of the initial work of the commission will be to see how states can encourage the development of integrated healthcare delivery systems, like accountable care organizations and patient-centered medical homes that are designed to more effectively and efficiently coordinate care, combined with comprehensive payment reform.

Commission members are drawn from virtually all the stakeholders in the healthcare market and include former governors, major health plans, hospital and physician groups, consumer representatives, representatives from public payers and other purchasers of care.

"We know that to achieve our goals around cost containment and affordability is going to require commitment from all stakeholders," said Andrew Dreyfus, president of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. "And we need to achieve savings that benefit all the purchasers of care: government, employers and the patients themselves."

In addition to Halvorsen and Dreyfus, other members of the commission include:

  • Jay Cohen, executive chairman, Monarch HealthCare;
  • Michael L. Davis, senior vice president, global human resources, General Mills;
  • Lloyd Dean, CEO, Dignity Health;
  • Joan Henneberry, former executive director, Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing;
  • Robert Reischauer, Medicare trustee and former director, Congressional Budget Office;
  • Rob Restuccia, consumer advocate, Community Catalyst;
  • Glenn Steele, president and CEO, Geisinger Health System; and
  • Simon Stevens, executive vice president, UnitedHealth Group

Raymond Scheppach, former executive director of the National Governors Association, will direct the project. He is an economic fellow at the Miller Center and a professor of practice at the University of Virginia's Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy.

The work of the commission is vitally important at the state level as healthcare costs continue to take a bigger and bigger bite of the overall state budgets, Leavitt added.

"Not only is healthcare a contributor to the deficit and our outstanding debt problem but it is also an ongoing contributor to the fiscal position of many states," he said. "Both the federal government and states will have to continue to reduce investments in education and infrastructure to fund healthcare, which will in turn lower our long-term economic growth and lower our standard of living."

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