Opinion: Businesses, communities key to health care debate

By Anne Warhover

Theres been a lot of talk both fiery rhetoric and thoughtful discourse on the national stage about fixing health care since Congress and President Obama took a crack at overhauling the entire system last year. Fast-forwarding to mid-2011, health care reform is moving along, but many key provisions still face legislative, judicial and budgetary scrutiny not to mention an onslaught of partisan bickering and negative ads from both sides of the political aisle.

Whether the pillars of the Affordable Care Act and the health care debate succeed in expanding access, improving quality and reducing costs, one fact is indisputable: meaningful systematic change in health care wont occur without fully engaging business and community leaders in the conversation.

For businesses, the stakes in health care are high literally. Businesses already shoulder most of the nations health care expenses through their employees health insurance premiums which continue to rise year after year. According to Colorados insurance commissioner, the average insurance premium rose by 22 percent between 2007 and 2009, with only a slight decrease in 2010. Meanwhile, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services estimate health expenditures ballooned to 17.6 percent of GDP in 2009. By contrast, military expenditures accounted for 4.7 percent of GDP that same year.

Communities also factor heavily in the health care equation. Clearly, the environments where we live and work play a major role in our health and well-being. That said, communities that have easy access to parks and recreation, and safe pathways that allow people to ride their bikes or walk will fare better health-wise than those that dont. The actual health of Coloradans living in those communities also influences the economy. A recent statistic from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the health consequences related to obesity cost Coloradans an estimated $874 million a year.

Keeping those jaw-dropping numbers in mind, its absolutely apparent that Colorado wont improve health care without tapping into the concerns and creative thinking of business and the community.

Fortunately, businesses and communities throughout the state are already thinking about innovative and collaborative solutions in health and health care that will ultimately save and improve lives. A few examples:

  • The Center for Improving Value in Health Care The nonprofit CIVHC is partnering with the business community, providers and health plans to develop new solutions to contain costs, improve quality and build a stronger, more efficient health care system. CIVHC provides an open forum for direct dialogue and development of innovative ideas with health care facilities and the doctors, nurses and staff who work there.
  • Westerly Creek Park and Garden Project With support from business, community and nonprofit organizations, this project will transform a vacant lot into a soccer field, playground and expanded community garden. Once completed, the low-income, east Denver neighborhood will have safe, quality recreational space along with a source of fresh fruits and vegetables. The Westerly Creek project is one of dozens of similar projects throughout Colorado that aim to make communities more conducive to good health.
  • Bipartisan legislative efforts Business and community leaders were instrumental in backing a number of health-related bills during the 2011 General Assembly, including a bill that established a Colorado health benefit exchange to provide health insurance options for individuals and small businesses who may qualify for financial assistance to pay for premiums.

Because the role of business and communities in improving health and health care is critical, the Colorado Health Foundation called upon business and community leaders to share their insights at the 2011 Colorado Health Symposium, one of the top health policy conferences in the country. This years event, which takes place July 27-29 at Keystone Resort & Conference Center, focuses on emerging solutions and daunting challenges in health care.

For the first day, weve assembled a strong group of health care providers to discuss how reform is affecting delivery of services. Day Two of the symposium will highlight how large and small communities across the country are re-imagining themselves in the context of health. Finally, Day Three will explore how health issues and health care reform are affecting businesses. Though this years event is sold out, observers can keep up with the dialogue online and through social media at www.coloradohealth.org.

To forge meaningful solutions to todays significant health care challenges, everybody needs to think outside of the health care box. Thats why the Colorado Health Foundation encourages collaborative thinking at the symposium and elsewhere. By harnessing the collective wisdom of health care, business and the community in one gathering, the symposium provides a catalyst for ideas that could potentially change the shape of health care.

Anne Warhover is president and CEO of the Colorado Health Foundation.

Opinions communicated in Solutions represent the view of individual authors, and may not reflect the position of the University of Colorado Denver or the University of Colorado system.