Health policy now where the action is

The future of health care is already here.

One big sign of the transformed medical world came early this month with the re-election of President Barack Obama, which effectively preserved the controversial Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The sweeping law has already reshaped the health care landscape. But now, with challenges to it essentially finished, medical organizations are certain to scramble for position in the rapidly changing new world. Industry officials and policymakers will move fast to get ahead of events.

Three developments this week have shown how the future has arrived.

One came with the announcement that WellStar Health System and Piedmont Healthcare are creating a collaborative to improve care and reduce spending. Each cited the ACA as an impetus for the partnership. (Here’s a link to a GHN article on the alliance.)

A second came Wednesday with the announcement that WellStar is taking over the Center for Health Transformation, formerly run by Newt Gingrich. More on that later.

And a third involved a Wednesday meeting of local health care, policy and philanthropic leaders, in a process called the Atlanta Regional Collaborative for Health Improvement.

The stakeholders at the meeting considered a fascinating scenario that was presented like this:

Take the $11 billion in total health care spending in Fulton and DeKalb counties each year. Then devote 1 percent of those expenditures – $100 million – to initiatives to improve health and medical care and lower costs. Which of 25 initiatives, ranging from improving hospital efficiency to establishing medical homes to reducing crime, would you pick to bend the cost curve and boost quality of care in the region?

The ARCHI group, including representatives of hospitals, physicians, public health, philanthropy and health insurance, were guided through a computerized simulation of what their choices would produce in savings and medical outcomes.

The stakeholders’ consensus focused on strategies that included enabling healthier behavior; creating pathways for disadvantaged families; coordinating care; expanding insurance; and improving mental health care.

The ReThink Health effort, which has held meetings since this summer, has been organized by United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta, the Atlanta Regional Commission, and the Georgia Health Policy Center.

Karen Minyard,  executive director of the Georgia Health Policy Center, told GHN that the ReThink Health simulation was piloted in New Hampshire, California and Colorado.  The Pueblo, Colo., group has gone the furthest on pursuing its strategies, and is seeking funding, Minyard said.

The ARCHI group will meet again to determine the next steps to bring a game plan to reality.

WellStar Health System has been moving forward fast. Two days after announcing its collaborative with Piedmont, the Cobb-based nonprofit said it has acquired the rights to the trademark, trade name and website address of the Center for Health Transformation (CHT), the health care think tank founded by Gingrich, a former Georgia congressman who spent four years as speaker of the U.S. House and ran for president this year.

Under Gingrich, the CHT was a for-profit entity that sought to create a health system to save lives and save money for all Americans.

Through WellStar’s leadership, the Center for Health Transformation will be re-launched as an invitation-only network of up to 20 non-competing, not-for-profit health systems.

“The Center for Health Transformation will be a collaboration of top-tier health systems to meet in a nonpartisan manner with a goal of discovering and sharing best practice solutions to improve quality, decrease costs and improve access,” said Reynold Jennings, president & CEO of WellStar, in a statement.

Dr. Robin Wilson, WellStar’s senior vice president for medical management, has been named executive director of the CHT.

To be considered for membership, an organization must be a nonprofit, multi-facility health system. Initially, membership will come from the Southeastern states.

“WellStar is striving to be a transformer of health care and not simply a transactor,” said Jennings. “Building on the original mission of the CHT allows the best and brightest in the industry to come together and shape the future of healthcare delivery in our country.”