From the Chair

Kuchka-Craig Column

Deborah Kuchka-Craig, FHFMA

When I was growing up, my mom and dad took the phone off the hook at dinnertime (no answering machines back then!) so we could ensure dinner was not interrupted.

We talked about everything around that table-and did so passionately at times! Outsiders might have called it "debate," but Dad refused to call it arguing. It was just "a deep discussion," he would say. Well, during my travels this year, I have observed some wonderful discussions at HFMA meetings that were reminiscent of those family dinner-table discussions! And I've had the privilege of participating in some lively provider-payer panels that were rich and thought-provoking. Like our family dinner-table discussions, they were passionate, but participants regarded them as enlightening "deep discussions," not arguments.

Over the course of my career, I have been on both the payer and provider sides of the negotiating table. When I first joined HFMA, I was a payer, working for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Maryland. I found HFMA meetings to be an excellent way to stay abreast of what was happening in the hospital industry. I also recall many times when I felt like a "target" as speakers singled me out when discussing a gripe with an insurance company. But I continued to attend, as I found the networking and educational sessions well worth the ribbing.

Today, payers still compose a small percentage of our membership, but they add so much to our association. Recognizing that diverse perspectives make us better equipped to tackle the challenges facing our industry, HFMA has sought to engage payers in various ways over the years. Valued members of our national Board and Thought Leadership Council come to us from payer organizations. Payers are frequent and well-received speakers at educational events. At the chapter level, many are actively taking steps to engage payers in HFMA membership and activities.

For example, New Jersey HFMA Chapter president Mary Taylor is on a mission to recruit members from health plans. The chapter has developed an active managed care committee including providers and payers, and has asked payers to write for their newsletter. Mary believes that membership diversity is more important than ever in light of the reform-related changes ahead of us.

One of my personal board objectives this year is to increase our payer members' level of engagement with the association. This remains an area of largely untapped opportunities. As the quest to retain positive margins gets tougher for payers and providers alike, contract negotiations have become more difficult and, frankly, not as much fun as they used to be. Impending reform-related changes will do little to ease these tensions.

But as an eternal optimist, I continue to look for win-wins. So let's strengthen our chapters by including all healthcare stakeholders. Let's agree to come together and talk about the important issues. What other organization can provide such a wonderful opportunity, serving as a credible convener to safely debate the issues of the day-over a dining table instead of a negotiating table? As I write this column, I am on my way to the Metropolitan New York Chapter meeting to moderate a panel discussion of hospital and payer CEOs addressing the challenges and opportunities of payer-provider collaboration. Let's keep those "deep discussions" going! 

Publication Date: Friday, April 01, 2011

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