Memphis Health Org Ahead of Reform Curve

By Tom Wilemon

Hospitals here have a head start on complying with transparency and efficiency requirements in the bill passed Sunday by the U.S. House of Representatives because of the Memphis Business Group on Health.

The nonprofit organization for the past 25 years has pushed for better quality, improved access and lower costs.

“This is health reform do-it-yourself,” said Cristie Travis, CEO of the agency.

Its 20 members and affiliates include corporate giants like FedEx, public entities like the city of Memphis and private companies like law firm Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz PC. It represents about 400,000 people who receive health care benefits from the organization’s members.

Travis, who testified before Congress in 1995 about health care reform efforts, has kept a close eye on recent legislation.

“When it really comes down to the bottom line, in my mind, all health care is local,” Travis said. “You can have these national regulations and national approaches, but you’ve still got to implement locally and execute locally to be able to be successful in that environment. ... Employers in Memphis still have to use their leverage to help improve the cost and quality of care in Memphis.”

The organization in its earliest days helped lower insurance costs for its members through group purchasing.

The Memphis Business Group on Health has worked with hospitals to launch reporting of statistics that allow consumers to make better choices. It raised the bar for quality by grading health care providers according to national benchmarks.

“On April 28, we are going to be recognizing five hospitals that score in the top quartile nationally around what’s called best odds for survival,” Travis said. “What that means is they have got some of the best survival rates in the nation. They are in the top quartile for certain high-risk procedures.”

People can learn about Memphis area hospitals and health care providers through The Leapfrog Group for Patient Safety at Memphis was one of the first communities in the nation to report to the organization because of the Memphis Business Group on Health’s leadership.

Travis is a member of the Leapfrog Group’s board of directors and a past chairwoman. She currently chairs the board of the National Business Coalition on Health. She is also a board member of the purchaser advisory council for the National Commission on Quality Assurance, the National Commission on Prevention Priorities and the National Transitions of Care Coalition.

Her participation with the organizations keeps her informed about the latest trends and gives her access to the best practices in the nation. The Memphis Business Group on Health compares insurance plans at the state and national levels.

The goal is for plans in the area to reach 80 percent on a national benchmark.

“I will say that more plans are getting closer or slightly above 80 percent than in the past,” she said. “BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee has significantly improved over the five years that we’ve being doing Evaluate. What Evaluate does is it measures how the health plan is meeting the employers’ expectations around what the health plan should be doing to keep the employees healthy and keep health care affordable.”

The Memphis Business Group on Health will continue working for transparency in care and providing tools to members for making decisions on insurance.

The organization recently held a webinar to inform its members about complying with the Mental Health Parity Act and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.