As I transition to the next chapter in my health policy career, from Dignity Health to the CEO of St. Luke’s Health Initiatives, it is good to reflect on what has happened during the past few years, and what I believe lies ahead for us in Arizona. As complicated as health care has been during the past several years, I am generally optimistic, because our state is well positioned to take its rightful place as a national leader in health care innovation.
We have had an intense policy struggle over the role of government in supporting health insurance for uninsured Arizonans. Hospitals, physicians, clinics and other health providers have faced staggering increases in charity care and bad debt because of the continued economic recession and the roll off of more than 150,000 adults in the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS).
Gov. Jan Brewer was courageous in her leadership and support for the Medicaid Restoration Program, and the bi-partisan group of legislators helped shepherd this new chapter in providing insurance options for nearly a million working Arizonans who need some assistance in handling their health care needs. The business community and civic leaders were almost unanimously supportive of this restoration, because they understood the economic benefits to the state and its ability to stabilize our workforce as we dig out of the Great Recession.
The governor was also on the right track when she approached our Arizona congressional delegation and encouraged them to advocate for the national Medicaid program to be operated more like AHCCCS, because it is considered the “gold standard” for managing Medicaid costs while providing high quality health care.
The great news for Arizona is that we continue to innovate in the delivery of health care and find ways to improve the quality of care while lowering costs. Our community health systems are joining together with physicians, other providers and insurers to form new organizations and structures that can work collaboratively to deliver health care and to reduce costs.
For example, Banner Health has implemented a Pioneer Accountable Care Organization (ACO) that helps to coordinate care for 57,000 Arizona Medicare patients. Banner also has partnered with Humana and Cigna to improve care coordination and focus more on preventive care in an effort that will impact more than 220,000 patients.
John C. Lincoln and Scottsdale Healthcare have developed ACOs, as well as Dignity Health in partnership with Vanguard Health Systems. Similarly, St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center has partnered with Mercy Care Plan (one of the AHCCCS providers) to institute a patient-centered medical home. Within two years it has helped more than 5,500 chronically ill patients and achieved amazing results. The hospital has seen a 33 percent reduction in emergency department visits and a 28 percent reduction in inpatient admissions. This means savings to AHCCCS and better care for patients.
Even the new behavioral health contract being administered by the Arizona Department of Health Services has created a major shift in the quest for more coordinated care, because it combines — for the first time — behavioral health and physical health services under one delivery system. This is clearly the best way to treat patients in a more holistic manner, and should improve the overall quality of life for tens of thousands of patients throughout the state.
Our elected leaders should celebrate this atmosphere of innovation and help the state showcase these new care models, so other organizations around the country can benefit from our improvements.
St. Luke’s Health Initiatives has a long-standing reputation as a catalyst for promoting new ideas and helping organizations come together to accelerate the pace of innovation. It focuses on both health policy research and community based initiatives to promote healthier living and an environment more conducive to improved well-being. We will continue to engage policymakers, community members, health providers, business leaders and civic groups in meaningful ways to nurture these new ideas, encourage fresh ways of tackling the challenge of improving health, and funding innovative approaches that can serve as models for integrated care and building robust and healthy communities.
We stand ready to help our leaders celebrate the Arizona ethos of entrepreneurship, and hasten the transfer of new practices so that all Arizonans can benefit from the creative solutions that are being developed in our state. Many of these new models are easily transferable, and we should support our local providers as they expand the base of knowledge for new delivery approaches.
We hope to move beyond the heated discussions of the last legislative session to look at the transformative possibilities for healthy communities, with higher quality health care and overall health improvement. Just as the bioscience community has positioned “collaboration” as one of its most salient qualities, collaboration within and among all health stakeholders has achieved meaningful change that will save our state and businesses money, as well as fundamentally improve the quality of Arizonans’ lives for years to come. I hope you will join me in this new dialogue.
— Suzanne Pfister, CEO, St. Luke’s Health Initiatives.