Businesses taking charge on health care

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Businesses taking charge on health care
Forums, best-practice sharing are among health-care initiatives

By Andrew Weiland, of SBT

As southeastern Wisconsin employers face the prospect of another year of double-digit increases in health care costs, business leaders in the area are more aggressively tacking the problem, pressing for more discussion and sharing of ideas to hold down costs.
The coming weeks will bring a variety of health care forums for some of that discussion, while a monthly e-mail service has been launched to further share ideas on cost containment.
Health care costs "just becomes a bigger and bigger share of the pie and you watch your profits go down," said Dave Kliber, president and CEO of S-F Analytical Laboratories Inc. of West Allis and a member of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce Blueprint Health Care Team. "It becomes like a cancer growing within your income statement."
The Blueprint Health Care Team is asking the 350 members of the CEO Roundtable, part of the MMAC’s Council of Small Business Executives (COSBE), to submit best practices for reducing health care costs. Summaries of those practices are being e-mailed to CEO Roundtable members on the first Tuesday of each month.
The first batch of best practices was sent out Oct. 7, and included having employees pay a higher share of the cost, and joining a professional employer organization (PEO) to save health insurance costs. PEOs allow small businesses to band together and gain greater leverage in negotiating lower health care costs than they can on their own.
"Health care is becoming one of the No. 1 issues for both large and small businesses," said Mary Ellen Powers, executive vice president of the MMAC. "For larger companies, it affects their decision to locate here or somewhere else (where health care costs are lower). For smaller companies it’s having a tremendous effect on their ability to add jobs."

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In addition, the Wisconsin Collaborative for Healthcare Quality will release its first performance and progress report this month. The report is an attempt to eliminate some of the mystery about the quality of care given by health care providers, and the actual cost of various services.
The report will be presented during the first annual healthcare quality summit hosted by the collaborative and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 21, at the Milwaukee Athletic Club, 758 N. Broadway. Admission costs $75. Business leaders and public officials will be invited to attend. Reservations can be made by contacting Kim Bautz, at 608-661-6942.
"The issue of health care costs is a very important one to Wisconsin businesses as they attempt to grow in this state," said R.J. Pirlot, director of legislative relations for WMC. "When our members talk to us about what impacts their ability to create new jobs and maintain jobs they point to three factors: high taxes, the regulatory burden in this state and high health care costs."
"Part of the focus (of the collaborative) is teaching business leaders how to use quality information when making health care decisions. We’re excited about the collaborative’s effort to gather information on the quality of services to help our members make purchasing decisions."
The collaborative is made up of health care providers, businesses and union organizations from throughout the state. Members of the collaborative include Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital, the Medical College of Wisconsin, Dean Health System in Madison, ThedaCare in Appleton, Bellin Health in Green Bay, Marshfield Clinic, Gunderson Lutheran in La Crosse, St. Mary’s Hospital Medical Center in Madison and St. Joseph’s Hospital in Marshfield.
The health care providers in the collaborative are sharing information about the quality of their services. The progress report will provide a comparison of the quality of health care services by those providers and the cost of some services.
Collaborative members say their initiative will benefit customers and encourage each other to provide better services at a lower cost.
"This is the only way we’re going to get more boats to rise in the state," said John Toussaint, chairman of the collaborative and president and CEO of ThedaCare. "What we’re finding is nobody is great at everything. We all have our strengths and weaknesses."
"That begins the discussion," Toussaint said. "Why are these different? There’s a lot of variation, not only in performance, but also in price. Who is doing it best and let’s all try to get to that level."
Collaborative members hope business leaders who receive health care services from providers that are not in the collaborative will pressure those providers also to disclose information about the quality of their care.

On Oct. 29, Harvard Business School economist Regina Herzlinger will speak at an event titled, "A Solution of Healthcare Costs: A Consumer-Driven Focused Approach." Business leaders and elected officials are expected to attend. Admission to the event is free and will be held from noon to 2 p.m., also at the Milwaukee Athletic Club. To reserve a seat contact Margaret Kealty, 271-7753.

On Nov. 5, Partnerships for a Healthy Milwaukee will present "Narrowing the Gap: Mobilizing Resources in the Greater Milwaukee Community to Address and Eliminate Health Disparities." The course, which will focus on mobilizing resources in the area to reduce health care disparities, will run from 7:30 am. to 4:30 p.m. More information on the conference can be found at

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In addition, a series of forums on health care issues is being held by the Milwaukee Turners from noon to 1:30 p.m. each Thursday through Nov. 6, at Turner Hall, 1034 N. 4th St., Milwaukee. Admission is free. Each forum, part of the 4th Street Forum programming, will be broadcast on Channel 10 at 10 p.m. on the following Friday and on Channel 36 at 3 p.m. on the following Sunday.
The Oct. 23 session will look at national health care systems while the Oct. 30 session will look at Wisconsin’s future.
"Because of all the news coverage of the problems with health care, we felt it needed to be discussed in public so people could explore solutions," said Deidre A. Martin, program director of the 4th Street Forums.

Oct. 17, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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