Public Policymakers' Guide to Reducing Health Care Costs

Public Policymakers Guide to Reducing Health Care Costs
Saturday, Dec.4 | 10-11:30 a.m.

As states expand access to health insurance coverage under federal health reform, big questions remain about how to simultaneously improve health care quality and slow the growth in health costs. Some states have implemented innovative comprehensive programs to address these elusive policy goals. Presenters discussed successful examples in the areas of administrative efficiencies, prevention and wellness, patient-centered health homes and payment reforms that can easily be replicated in your state.

Session Summary:

While states may be facing a tremendous challenge with the economic impact of spiraling Medicaid rolls, they can take the lead and make true changes in the cost and quality of health care.

In Saturday’s session, “Public Policymakers’ Guide to Reducing Health Care Costs,” former Michigan Medicaid Director Vernon Smith said the Great Recession has added huge numbers of people to Medicaid rolls across the country; more than 50 million people are now served by the federal-state health care program.

“Under the radar, Medicaid has become the largest health care program in America,” Smith said. “We’ve tried the easy things (to control costs). … What people have come to say is if we’re really going to have an effect on cost containment, we have to find ways to put organization and structure into the health care system.”

Massachusetts has been the poster child for health care reform. In 2006, the legislature passed a massive overhaul that opened up health insurance for all residents. Sen. Richard Moore said the reform also focused on quality, such as electronic medical records, a statewide hospital infection prevention program, standardization of billing codes for insurers and authority for the attorney general to look at cost drivers for health insurance.

Jason Helgerson, Medicaid director for Wisconsin, said his state tried a new approach to reduce health care costs. Officials found $600 million in cuts plus major improvements to the program by bringing together members from all sectors of health care to form advisory boards. Improvement, Helgerson said, is a continuous process.

“… You tend to view the budget process in these narrow windows,” he said. “What can I do to balance my budget this year or the next two years? This expands that window. … We need to start investing and implementing things that bend the cost curve in the long run. We need to stop thinking about these programs in short time horizons.”


   View the Presentation:  "Reducing Health Care Costs: Challenges and Opportunities for States" in PDF (without audio) or QuickTime (with audio)

View the Presentation: "Wisconsin’s ForwardHealth Rate Reform Initiative" in PDF (without audio) or QuickTime (with audio)

  View the Presentation: "Public Policymakers Guide to Reducing Health Care Costs: The Massachusetts Experience" in PDF (without audio) or QuickTime (with audio)

Vernon K. Smith, Ph.D.

Vernon Smith is a Principal with Health Management Associates, where he focuses on Medicaid, Medicare, SCHIP, state budgets and trends in the health care market place. He has authored several reports on enrollment, spending and policy trends in Medicaid and SCHIP, on the Medicare prescription drug benefit, and on state directions to address the uninsured. Smith is a frequent speaker before national and state policymakers and commentator to major media, including The New York Times and National Public Radio. Before joining Health Management Associates, Smith served as Michigan Medicaid director and as budget director for the human services agency during 30 years of public service. He holds a Ph.D. degree in economics from Michigan State University.

Jason Helgerson

Jason Helgerson became Medicaid Director for Wisconsin on March 19, 2007. He serves as principle project sponsor for Gov. Doyle’s signature health care initiative, BadgerCare Plus. Through this new program, 98 percent of Wisconsin residents will have access to affordable health care. He has also served as executive assistant/policy director to the Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services and executive assistant for Wisconsin Department of Revenue. Prior to joining the Doyle Administration, Helgerson served as the senior education policy advisor for Mayor Ron Gonzales of the City of San Jose, Calif.  He has also worked for the Milwaukee Public Schools and Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist. He received his Masters of Public Policy degree from the University of Chicago in 1995, and his B.A. from American University in Washington, D.C., in 1993.

Sen. Richard T. Moore

Sen. Richard T. Moore of Massachusetts serves as the Senate chairman of the influential Joint Committee on Health Care Financing in the Massachusetts General Court. The eight-term senator ‘s imprint can be found on nearly every piece of health care legislation enacted in Massachusetts since 1999. Widely acknowledged for his leadership in state health care policy and his strong advocacy for patient safety and reduction of medical errors, Moore was among the principal architects of the landmark 2006 Massachusetts health care reform law. Moore was a nine-term member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives. Senator Moore is an educational administrator and faculty member at Bridgewater, Mass., State College. He is the current president of the National Conference of State Legislatures. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Clark University, master’s degree from Colgate University, and an honorary doctor of science degree from the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.