WHA Board Chair Dan Meyer, president, Aurora BayCare Medical Center, called to order the WHA Board of Directors virtually on October 15 with a substantial agenda. WHA President and CEO Eric Borgerding kicked off the meeting by updating the Board on the Association’s activities related to the COVID-19 surge, staff news, and the ongoing work to advance other priorities. The Board also heard updates from the Board’s representatives to the American Hospital Association Regional Policy Board and the WHA councils.
New Board Members
The Board unanimously approved Pam White, chief nursing officer, Mayo Health System/Northwest Wisconsin Region and Imran Andrabi, president and CEO, ThedaCare as new at-large Directors. Also of note, last month the Board unanimously approved a temporary change to the WHA bylaws to extend the terms of the current Directors and Officers for one year in recognition of the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on normal Board operations.
Marquette Law School Poll
Professor Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School Poll, dissected the latest Marquette polling, including questions related to health care and COVID. Franklin said that according the polling in October, 27% said they are very worried about being ill from the coronavirus, an increase from 21% in September. Twenty-one percent said they are not at all worried, virtually the same as the 19% in September. Franklin noted that in October, 72% agreed that masks should be required in public places, while 26% disagreed with requiring masks. The polling indicated that in August, 69% supported a mask requirements and 29% opposed.
State and Federal Advocacy Report
Borgerding provided the Board with an overview of WHA’s coronavirus response, describing the close work with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) and others within the Administration, assistance provided to and meetings with legislators and staff, and work with a coalition representing leading health care, business, and local government organizations focused on containing the spread of the virus. Borgerding said to the Board, “WHA is well aware of the challenges you are all facing as COVID and non-COVID patient care surges, while at the same time the toll COVID is taking on the workforce is stressing and challenging health care capacity.” Borgerding continued, “With all this in mind, the WHA team has been extremely active working to relieve stress points identified by your teams.”
Members of the WHA team provided details of the WHA response, including describing the packages of policy items submitted to the administration that would help address workforce and facility capacity issue, work on DHS guidance documents related to post-acute care and workforce issues, and coordination on testing and the alternative care facility issues. The Board also heard about state orders requiring masks and limiting public gatherings and challenges to those actions. Borgerding described the multi-industry coalition public services announcement campaign aimed at stopping the COVID spread.
WHA VP of Federal and State Relations, Jon Hoelter, shared an update on pressing issues at the federal level. Hoelter noted that Congress had been unable to come to agreement on a COVID package due to disagreements over the level of spending. Fortunately, both sides have included more funding for hospitals in the Provider Relief Fund, but recent HHS guidance changed how hospitals can use these funds. Instead of supplanting lost revenue due to COVID, HHS changed guidance to be based on a change in hospitals’ operating margin. WHA and RWHC sent a letter to HHS expressing concern over these changes and is continuing to ask for support from the Wisconsin Congressional Delegation to get HHS to revert back to the former guidance. Hoelter also covered recent work by WHA to address drug manufacturers efforts to deny 340B discounts at contract pharmacies. WHA led a coalition letter signed by over 70 hospitals, federally qualified health centers, and HIV Ryan White clinics expressing concerns to HHS and has also been garnering support from our congressional delegation to get drug manufacturers to stop these practices.
WHA Senior Vice President, Government Relations, Kyle O’Brien, provided a preview of the upcoming state budget, emphasizing the budget priorities, process considerations, and immediate next steps. O’Brien also discussed the key member hosted virtual roundtables with Senate and Assembly leadership and other virtual legislative visits. O’Brien provided details of a variety of ongoing and emerging priorities, including licensure issues.
Joanne Alig, senior vice president for public policy, updated the Board on the work done by WHA’s Medicaid Policy Work Group. Alig conveyed priorities for the upcoming biennium in several areas including reimbursement, telemedicine, behavioral health and administrative efficiencies. She noted that it will be a difficult state budget as DHS is already estimating a need for $1.1 billion in state funding as the Medicaid “cost-to-continue.” Alig also provided an update on recent work by WHA in the area of health care costs. This work includes understanding the benefits of integrated care, which is highly prevalent in Wisconsin, and understanding that the total cost and value of care should include not just unit price, but utilization, quality, and access as well. Alig shared information about a recent study
from HC Trends, a research affiliate of Benefit Service Group Analytics (BSGA) that describes the high value of health care in Wisconsin.