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Safeway keynote will detail successful program; panel to address challengesWhat: Health Care Solutions that Work

When: Nov. 11, 7:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m.

Who: Ken Shachmut, executive director, Safeway Health LLC; Mary Maddux-Gonzalez, public health officer, Sonoma County Department of Health Services, Health Action member; Ken Brock, attorney, Gaw Van Male; Victor McKnight, consultant, Sitzmann Morris & Lavis; Wayne Fairchild, CEO, Redwood Regional Medical Group

Presented and sponsored by: North Bay Business Journal, Kaiser Permanente, Redwood Regional Medical Group, St. Joseph Health System Sonoma County, Sutter Health Partners & Sutter Medical Foundation North Bay, TLCD Architecture

Where: Hyatt Vineyard Creek Hotel & Spa, Santa Rosa

Cost: $49 individual, $510 table of 10 (seating is limited, includes NBBJ subscription for new subscribers)

To register: 707-521-5264, www.NorthBayBusinessJournal.com

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NORTH BAY – With, without or despite reform, businesses are finding ways to become more than helpless bystanders to climbing health care costs.

[caption id="attachment_16364" align="alignright" width="432" caption="Ken Shachmut, Mary Maddux-Gonzalez, Ken Brock, Victor McKnight and Wayne Fairchild"][/caption]

During the Business Journal’s Health Care Solutions that Work event next week, attendees will learn about one such nationally commended strategy – that is more than a wellness program – and hear a comprehensive panel featuring a current assessment of the reform bills, implications for small business and how access to care has and will change.

“Our hope is that we can demonstrate to employers how we flat-lined health care costs without cost shifting. In a nutshell, we created incentives for people to migrate toward high-quality, low-cost health care in conjunction with improving behaviors so they don’t require as much in the way of medical services,” said Safeway Health Executive Vice President Ken Shachmut, keynote for the Nov. 11 conference.

Three years ago, Safeway commenced implementation of an innovative self-insured benefits program that has effectively held down costs and garnered the attention of business and health stakeholders nationwide. The model works primarily by improving transparency in health care pricing and incentivizing healthier behaviors.

“A colonoscopy can cost ten times as much at one facility as in another, and most of the time we blindly accept that, partly because there is no visibility and partly because the employer is picking up the tab,” Mr. Shachmut said.

“What we have created and think can be expanded in a way that any employer could use is a central database of pricing for different procedures. The advantage is we can say to the employee, 'We will only reimburse up to the least expensive price.' They can still go wherever they want, but anything more than that price will come out of the employee’s pocket.”

Mr. Shachmut will spend about an hour summarizing the strategy and its accomplishments, as well as offer replicable methods for other employers, discuss what health reform is missing relative to Safeway’s findings and what the chief driver behind climbing health care costs has been.

In the second hour, a diverse panel will present a localized dialogue of health care reform. Sonoma County Public Health Director Mary Maddux-Gonzalez will lead the discussion with a presentation on how the county took health reform into its own hands.

Two years ago, the Board of Supervisors created the Sonoma Health Action Council, a forum of health, business and nonprofit leadership charged with improving the health of the population and access to care. The council has successfully launched several programs, including a region-wide walking program, healthy foods initiative and medical home collaborative.

“One of the key issues to any health care reform is addressing primary care and how we expand access, which is so important for this 'medical home' concept of preventative care and keeping people healthy,” Dr. Maddux said.

Next, Gaw Van Male attorney Ken Brock will present an analysis of the most current form of the health care bills, with a focus on its implications for small businesses: How would the health exchange affect prices? What about a government-sponsored option? Who would be included in an employer mandate? What are the possible penalties or tax credits?

“There is so much information put out there about health reform, mostly politically motivated, and people just want to know the facts. I want to explain in plain terms how this will possibly affect business, what will be required, what are the benefits or what has been overlooked,” Mr. Brock said.

Redwood Regional Medical Group Chief Executive Wayne Fairchild will follow with a discussion of how the physician payment structure has transformed business from the one-man shop to large health care groups.

“People think health reform will be big change, but health care has been changing for years. Legislation will just accelerate this process that’s been happening for decades,” he said.

“The most important challenge that needs to be addressed is increasing the number of primary care physicians. They are the most crucial part of the system, but today it’s difficult to make a living as a family practice physician.”

Sitzmann Morris & Lavis consultant Victor McKnight will close the panel with a current and future assessment of health care pricing.

“Already there is a lot of cost shifting to the private sector because Medicare underpays providers, and pricing could go several different directions depending on the final form of the bill,” he said.

Following panel presentations, the group will lead an interactive audience round-table and question and answer session.

The event will be at the Hyatt Vineyard Creek Hotel & Spa in Santa Rosa runs from 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.