Health Care Commission lives on | School purchasing “on front burner” | Alaska’s high-priced health care

Pricing, rather than cost, would seem to be our focus this month in the 5 Things We’re Watching.  Four of our five items relate to pricing, either directly or indirectly, from unique and different angles.

At the end of the day, this pricing issue seems to us to be the greatest threat in Alaskan health care – more so even than access, which hardly seems possible.  If the energy production falls off in the years ahead like some have suggested, it’s hard to see how Alaska’s economy keeps growing when 1 of every 4 dollars in Alaska goes to the health care system.

DJ 5 things updated

1. Alaska Health Care Commission extension passes

One of the most important forums for discussion about improving the health care system in Alaska – both the delivery and the financing of it – is the Alaska Health Care Commission.  It has shined an important light on the structural reasons driving health care cost increases.

SB 135, which extends the Commission until June 30, 2017, passed the House yesterday.  It’s now on its way to Gov. Parnell to sign, having passed the Senate April 4th.  Executive Director Deborah Erickson says the next phase of its work will focus on an action plan to implement the group’s previous recommendations.

2. School-district employee health purchasing bill dies

For about a year, we’ve been tracking the effort (SB 90) to put determination of school district health benefits under state control.  The idea emerged with some force late at the end of last year’s session.  That resulted in the Hay Report in December, which generated some momentum for the effort this year.

We spoke with Sen. Dunleavy’s office this week to ask a few questions on next steps.  We were told the Senator still considers this “a front-burner issue,” and that he’s told the Senate Finance Committee he will be actively working on this after session.


3. Four priciest US cities for health care are in Alaska

It’s well-known that health care is expensive in Alaska.  But it’s still breathtaking to learn that four Alaska cities (Juneau, Fairbanks, Kodiak and Anchorage) have the highest health care prices in the nation, as the Anchorage Daily News recently reported.

Now, like many in heath care, we tended to question the underlying data.  So, while AEDC provided some good summary data on the report, we went straight to the source.  The Council for Community and Economic Research, based in Virginia and connected to pro-business associations, generously gave us their raw data for publication to support their findings.  You can dig into it yourself.

4. Will new leadership at Bartlett Regional bring stability?

Will new leadership bring a new era of stability at Bartlett?  The Juneau hospital announced this week that it’s hired Charles Bill as its new CEO, effective May 12. Bill will replace the interim CEO who has held the position since former CEO Chris Harff resigned under a cloud last fall.

Bill comes from Durango, Colo., where he has been the Assistant Administrator of Physician Development at Centura Health Physician Group, a network of 500 medical providers, since July 2013. Previously, he was president and CEO of Arizona Regional Medical Center in Mesa, Ariz., which closed last May.

5.   HHS goes public with Medicare payment data

There was a big splash last week when HHS released to the public an enormous database of payments to doctors
and other health-care providers.  The release came thanks to the persistence of the Wall Street Journal.  Additional news organizations from the New York Times to the Seattle Times rushed to report on the doctors and specialties receiving some of the biggest payments.

We dug into the Alaska data a bit ourselves. But, after doing this in a number of states, it’s clear it will take a while to sift through the information to reach any solid conclusions.  The question will be what consumers and businesses do with the data and how it will get used to change purchasing, if at all.