Helping southeastern Wisconsin curb the rising costs of health care is the torch that Dianne Kiehl carries as executive director of the Business Health Care Group (BHCG). The group is working to leverage its collective membership into negotiating lower health care costs from providers.
“The actual mission of our group, which consists of more than 500 employers and employer groups, is to get our health care costs at or below the Midwest average through improving quality care, reducing the cost of care and consumer engagement,” Kiehl said.
If Wisconsin and the Milwaukee area can’t get health care costs down, companies will be less likely to come or stay, Kiehl said.
“It’s an economic viability issue for our community,” said Kiehl.
Wisconsin has a lot to overcome to improve its economy, starting with high taxes, she said.
“Then you add on the health care issue, and it makes our market less desirable from an economic standpoint,” Kiehl said.
Kiehl has been with BHCG since June 2004.
“The business community is engaged, we’ve got the consumers engaged, the providers are engaged, and we spend a lot of time with the provider community listening, understanding and getting them to listen and understand.”
The cohesion of the program depends on collaboration, she said.
“Health care costs are a critical issue. It’s a national crisis,” Kiehl said. “We’re not here to solve the national crisis, but we are trying to go from super crisis level down to crisis level.”
Kiehl began her career in health care at 20 years old with a one-year degree as a clinical lab technologist. Eleven years later, she went back to school and graduated with a nursing degree and a reluctant shove down a new path.
“When I was going to school, my instructors would say, ‘You’re going to end up in business,’ and I was insulted,” she said. “I was a good nurse, but they obviously saw something I didn’t.”
In 1984, Kiehl landed a job with a startup firm out of Chicago. She also held a senior level posiion at Associates for Health Care, Marsh & McLennan and AmeriChoice/UnitedHealth Group.
“I really believe it is all about structuring accountability and alignment,” said Kiehl, pointing out the four parties that need to be held accountable: the consumers, the providers, the employers and the administrators.
Kiehl said the key issue is awareness, not control.
“All these parties are in the game for the same reason,” she said. “What do consumers want? They want good quality care at a reasonable cost. What does the business community want? They want good quality care at a reasonable cost. What do providers want to give? They want to give good quality care at a competitive cost. What do administrators want? They want to be able to support and they want their customers to obtain good quality care at a reasonable cost. So really, everybody wants the same thing, so it’s an issue of aligning activities to be able to support an outcome that everybody wants anyway.”
Kristin Seymour, president of Humana-Wisconsin, nominated Kiehl for the Health Care Heroes Award.
“Anyone who speaks five minutes with Dianne can see the passion she has for her role, and she is proof that one person can make a difference,” Seymour said.
“I absolutely have a passion for this, and the primary reason is because the cost of health care affects the quality of our lives,” Kiehl said. “I especially take pride in being involved in giving the parties at the table and realizing, getting everybody to understand that this problem is not going to be fixed by any one entity and finger pointing is not going to work.”