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There’s got to be a better way

Center set up to find innovative approaches to health care

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Print this page by Robert Burke

The one thing you can get various players in the health-care debate to agree on is that the current system doesn’t work well. Now a new effort is under way in Virginia to find agreement on how to improve health care.

The proposed Virginia Center for Health Innovation is “right now truly just a concept,” says Beth Bortz, executive director of the Medical Society of Virginia Foundation in Richmond. Bortz and Steven Horan, president of Richmond-based Community Health Solutions, are laying the groundwork for how the center would work and introducing the idea to consumer groups, private- and public-sector employers, health-care providers and health plans. “We’re getting positive feedback about it,” Horan says. “I think what people are realizing is that we’re at a place where health-care costs aren’t sustainable, but we’re also at a place where the quality isn’t where it should be.”

Bortz says she and Horan started developing the concept about a year ago. The center would be an independent nonprofit group. Its funding could come from grants from foundations or government sources, corporate support for specific initiatives, or fees for services such as training and technical services, as well as membership fees. Bortz and Horan are working now on setting up its nonprofit status. Plus, they’re involved in fundraising and recruiting a board of directors.
Dr. Bill Hazel, Virginia’s secretary of Health and Human Resources, along with Barry DuVal, president of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, have also been involved with the initial organizing effort. Hazel says the plan is to get a steering committee in place in September and formally launch the center in January. The current models of delivering and paying for health care don’t work, Hazel says. “What we are doing now is certainly unsustainable. Doesn’t it make sense for us to create our own impetus for change and find out what works and what doesn’t?”

The team’s proposal calls for the center to focus on bringing various stakeholders together and to seek out and test ideas that would represent “value-driven innovation.” The next step would be to put those ideas to use. Getting stakeholders to agree on how to do that will be a challenge. “I’m not kidding anybody; it’s going to be hard,” Bortz says. “But this is kind of groundbreaking.”

The effort draws from a recommendation in the December 2010 report by the Virginia Health Reform Initiative Advisory Council, a 24-member group appointed last summer by Gov. Bob McDonnell to develop recommendations for health reform in Virginia. The council said the state needs to bring together “multiple stakeholders in collaborative efforts to identify, pilot test and spread effective models of delivery and payment reform.”

Doug Gray, executive director of the Virginia Association of Health Plans, says his group has been briefed about the center’s plans.  He wants his members to focus on cost-effectiveness. “We’re not looking for innovations that create a rationale to spend more money for the same result,” he says. “We’ve got to have evidence that a model works before we’re going to try and promote it far and wide.”

There is federal money available for such innovation initiatives through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services — the federal agency that administers those programs — under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.  “One of the goals is to help Virginia draw down some money” from federal sources, Bortz says.

There are similar initiatives around the country, so Virginia is late to the game. But Horan says that should raise hope that the different entities can work together. “Anybody with any kind of strategic experience knows that different stakeholders have different agendas. The question is whether you can align those interests,” he says. “We do know that in 30 other states, in about 50 other projects, there are multiple stakeholders coming together. So we know it can be done.” 

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