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Employer Demands for Health IT

by David Williams

Former Michigan Governor John Engler (now CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers), Applied Materials’ Global Compensation and Benefits head Bob Hartley, and NCR’s Matt Quinn did an admirable job of describing why employers should take a role in encouraging the adoption of health care IT as part of today’s Employer CEO/CFO Summit track.

They freely admitted it will be a hard task, but said the payoff will be worth the trouble. Gov. Engler said employers haven’t used their clout in health care, and that they should. He said the private sector is able to do things that government can’t –enacting policies that address wide but not universal audiences– whereas it’s harder for government to move forward without taking everyone into account.

A serious challenge employers run into whenever they try to exert influence is that they are fragmented. Even big names like GE, IBM, and Intel lack a critical mass to drive providers to take action. That’s true even in what you might think of as company towns. If it weren’t the case, initiatives like Bridges to Excellence would have made a more dramatic difference than they have.

Ironically, the biggest employers in most communities and states are the governments themselves, often followed closely by hospitals and health systems! That means you can’t get away from dealing with the government (or even health care providers) if you are serious about bringing together employers.

I asked Gov. Engler about this after the session. His perspective is a little bit different. In his view, when states think about health care costs they don’t look too closely at their own workforce because unlike with most employers, those employees don’t form a major part of their costs. Medicaid is the big monster. Engler would like to see states focus on providing some sort of PHR for Medicaid enrollees.

Engler also pointed out that state employees tend to be unionized, and that while he expects strong labor support, we should see non-unionized private employers move forward faster.

Engler’s right of course, but I do think that government entities –especially state and local– are an overlooked part of the employer equation.

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