WHA Physician Leaders Council Considers Key Policy Issues

October 29, 2020

Dr. Thomas Voelker, chief medical officer (CMO) of Aspirus Riverview Hospital & Clinics, led the October 19 WHA Physician Leadership Council (PLC)  meeting in his new role as Chair of the PLC.
The physician leaders who comprise the PLC had a robust discussion of health care costs in response to a presentation on health care costs in Wisconsin by WHA Senior Vice President of Public Policy Joanne Alig. Alig presented the findings of the recently released Rand 3.0 study of health care costs as well as WHA’s response to the Rand study’s conclusions. Alig said Rand’s conclusions are compromised by using a very small sample size of payments for health care services. In addition, the Rand study relies heavily on a comparison to Medicare payments that are influenced by many other factors besides the actual cost of care, making state by state comparisons problematic.
PLC members provided important feedback regarding what they are hearing about health care costs in their communities. One member noted that employers are most focused on unit price although he hears from patients who are concerned about co-payments and high deductible limits. Another PLC member emphasized the need to recognize utilization as an important component of the total cost of care.
Alig also described the key findings of a recent study performed by BSG Analytics (BSGA). The BSGA study found that health care insurance premiums, a very good proxy for health care costs, are about average in Wisconsin compared to other states while both quality of care and access to care in Wisconsin are above average.
PLC members relayed their experiences with respect to WHA’s efforts to effect public policy and regulatory rules changes related to the COVID-19 pandemic. WHA General Counsel Matthew Stanford described WHA’s successful effort to have the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS)  reinstate waivers and orders related to licensure reciprocity with other states that were put in place early in the pandemic but had since expired. A number of PLC members stated that the extended license reciprocity has been very valuable for hiring nursing personnel. Stanford also outlined other regulatory changes adopted by DSPS at WHA’s urging with respect to telehealth, expiring credentials, licensure reinstatement and practice waivers. Members noted that while the increased use of telehealth has been a very valuable resource for patient care during this pandemic, robust broadband access remains an issue in rural areas. One PLC member observed that “telehealth has been embraced by families.”
WHA Senior Vice President for Workforce and Clinical Practice Ann Zenk and Laura Rose, WHA’s Vice President for Policy Development, outlined WHA advocacy efforts to modify recent Department of Health Services (DHS) guidance regarding the acceptance of new admissions by skilled nursing facilities when there is a staff member or patient with COVID-19 and regarding health care workers  who have been exposed to a person with COVID-19. In both instances, WHA’s efforts have led to modifications giving health care institutions greater flexibility in caring for patients and in keeping the health care workforce available. Rose also led the PLC in a discussion of the 2021 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule proposed rule. Key changes include a reduction in the conversion factor, changes to telehealth rules, and to Medicare’s Quality Payment Program.
WHA Vice President of Education & Marketing Leigh Ann Larson gave an overview of WHA’s 2021 education plans. Given the pandemic induced constraints on in-person learning for at least the near future, WHA is moving to a blended learning approach for 2021 including webinars, on-line education (recordings available on WHA’s On-demand Learning Center) and, if possible, in-person learning. Of note is that WHA’s annual Physician Leadership Development Conference will be a two-part learning experience in 2021. A Physician Learning Day will take place on Friday, March 12, featuring the three nationally renowned speakers originally scheduled for the 2020 Physician Leadership Development Conference: Dr. David Nash, Bill Benjamin, and William Martin. The second part will be an in-person Physician Networking Event at Kohler, Wisconsin, on September 14 and 15, which will include an evening reception with dinner followed by two educational sessions the following morning. Larson also shared that plans for both Advocacy Day and for the Rural Health Conference in 2021 are evolving.

This story originally appeared in the October 29, 2020 edition of WHA Newsletter