University hosts panel 'Drowning in Health Care Costs: All Hands on Deck'

Health care reform panel
Patrick Charmel, second from left, discusses the price mark-up procedures behind technology devices such as a medical nerve stimulator versus smart phones during a panel with Steven Brill, second from right, and Kevin Lembo, right, moderated by Susan Campbell.

Oct. 28, 2013 - The health care industry is overpaying its leaders,  according to Steven Brill, author of the Time Magazine special report, "The Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us." Brill was among the speakers taking part in the panel discussion, "Drowning in Health Care Costs: All Hands on Deck," on Monday, Oct. 28, in the auditorium at the Center for Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences on Quinnipiac University's North Haven Campus.

Patrick Charmel, president and CEO of Griffin Hospital, of Derby, and State Comptroller Kevin Lembo, who represented the perspective of the state employee plan that is experimenting with ways to reduce health care costs, joined Brill in an animated conversation aimed at answering the question: "How do we reduce health care costs and who will lead the charge?" Author and columnist Susan Campbell moderated the discussion.

"When you look at the overall health care debate questions about cost, the core answer is: All the prices are too high because hospital administrators, CFOs, health insurance executives - everyone but those actually delivering care, such as doctors and nurses - are being paid too much. Hospital administrators are paid way out of proportion to any other executives in other non-profits," said Brill.

Charmel argued that health care is broken because of "perverse incentives that plague the system." He cited cost mark-ups, an incentive to "do more," such as tests and procedures, and inconsistent deals with insurance companies that drive up costs. He also argued that we, as consumers, need to have a lot more responsibility by taking better care of ourselves. "What we eat, smoke, drink and do drives up the costs."

Because the consumer pays the same co-pay at each provider, Charmel asserted, the current health insurance system offers no incentive to patients to seek out other health care providers that offer comparable care at less cost.

Lembo stated that there is a need to incentivize preventative care among patients and health care providers. But he raised the question: "When one hospital facility charges three times more than another hospital for the exact same artificial hip, we must ask 'what is layered into those costs to make them so different?'"

All three panelists agreed that there is a need for much more transparency about health care costs and effectiveness. Consumers should be able to better understand which providers have good outcomes and what are the costs for service.

Sagar Parekh, outreach coordinator and communications officer for AmeriCorps, attended the discussion because he is applying both to medical and business schools and is interested in the debate about rising health care costs. "This panel really showed me that there needs to be a lot more effort to standardize costs. CEOs of hospitals are aware of the issue so they have no excuse to not make changes to be more cost effective," he said.

The program, presented by Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut and its parent organization, the Connecticut Health Advancement and Research Trust (CHART), is the first in a series of public forums aimed at tackling the health care challenges facing Connecticut.

"Connecticut already has enacted some innovative ideas. We hope this series will broaden the conversation beyond individual initiatives to ways we can work to impact the state as a whole," said Frances G. Padilla, president of the foundation.

For more information about the series, please visit the foundation's website.