June 18—The healthcare debate is now about finance, HFMA President and CEO Joe Fifer told healthcare finance professionals Tuesday at ANI: The HFMA National Institute. “People want to know why health care costs what it does and what we’re doing about it,” Fifer said. “We need to move beyond the rhetoric.” Fifer 1

We’re at an historic moment in health care, Fifer said. Purchasers are fed up with rising healthcare costs, and healthcare spending has played a large role in busting state and federal budgets. Between 2012 and 2013, the number of employers emphasizing value-based plans more than doubled. Today, accountable care organizations care for 10 percent of Americans. 

“Some say prices [in health care] don’t mean anything,” Fifer said—but that response is not enough. In fact, that response makes it seem as if the healthcare finance industry is trying to hide something. “Have you tried to navigate your way through the financial maze of health care?” Fifer asked. “Have you asked your patients, or customers, what it’s like?” 

HFMA is taking the lead in addressing this issue by creating a price transparency task force, Fifer announced Tuesday. The initiative is designed to create specific guidelines that healthcare organizations can use to improve their performance and transparency as well as make pricing systems more rational. To date, members of the task force include the Medical Group Management Association, America’s Health Insurance Plans, Leapfrog Group, and Catalyst for Payment Reform. 

“We will provide perspective to this very misunderstood issue,” Fifer told healthcare finance professionals at ANI. Fifer 2

A Shared Quest for Value Fifer also described how HFMA is taking a proactive stance toward these issues and leading change though other initiatives designed to develop guidelines for clear, responsible, and fair financial practices in health care:

  • The Patient Financial Interactions project will offer best practices that will bring more consistency, clarity, and transparency in patient financial interactions.
  • The HFMA Medical Debt Task Force is establishing standards for ensuring hospital collections are effective, efficient, and, most important, respectful of patients and their families.

Fifer remarked on the extent to which hospitals, physicians, and payers are aligning to improve value in health care. He urged healthcare professionals to “take the first bold step” toward value and transparency by sharing data with payers and physicians and by thinking differently, trying to put themselves in other healthcare stakeholders’ shoes. 

Steps Toward Improvement 

Throughout his presentation, Fifer cited examples of hospitals and health systems that have forged ahead with innovative value and transparency initiatives, such as online price transparency tools for consumers. 

“Great steps have been taken. However, we’re not done,” Fifer said. “Everyone in this room has contributed to how we got to this point. Now, everyone has a role to play in the solution. “As someone who cares passionately about the future of health care, who doesn’t want to leave a mess for my kids to clean up, I hope you’re all as excited as I am to make those changes happen,” he said.

Publication Date: Tuesday, June 18, 2013