I had the profound honor of representing The Alliance in testimony to the Senate Finance Committee this week. It was both a humbling and motivating experience.

This was the first hearing in an effort to forge bipartisan policies to mitigate the tremendous impact of chronic disease on patients, caregivers and our nation as a whole.

Cheryl DeMars in Senate Waiting Room

Cheryl DeMars prepares for her testimony in the waiting room behind 215 Dirksen Senate Office Building, where the U.S. Senate Finance Committee hearing on chronic illnesses was held.

The testimonies of the patient and caregiver were poignant and compelling. The patient, Stephanie Dempsey, suffers from multiple chronic conditions, most notably a hereditary cardiac condition which has already claimed the lives of her sister and grandmother. The caregiver, Mary Margaret Lehmann, is managing the health and life of her husband of 50 years who has Alzheimer’s disease.

Cheryl DeMars, Mary Margaret Lehmann

Mary Margaret Lehmann (center left) and Cheryl DeMars both spoke at the Finance Committee hearing. Mrs. Lehmann shared the difficulties of being a caregiver for her husband, who has Alzheimer’s disease.

While their stories were different, a common denominator was the lack of coordination in the health care system, and the detrimental impact this has on what is already a tragic and difficult circumstance. The stories of medication errors, poor communication between physicians and no guidance about where to go and what to do next compounded the health and financial challenges for these families.

Cheryl DeMars in Senate Hearing Room

Cheryl DeMars in the Senate hearing room at 215 Dirksen Senate Office Building, just before speaking to the committee.

The provider who testified, Dr. William A. Bornstein of Emory Healthcare in Georgia, explained part of the problem – fee for service payment systems. He explained that Emory Healthcare is hiring and training nurse coordinators to embed into primary care practices. These nurse coordinators will identify high-risk patients and work proactively to ensure they get the care they need in a patient-centered and coordinated manner.

The business model problem for Emory Healthcare and other provider systems is that the cost of nurse coordinators is typically not covered. In addition, if the nurse coordinators are effective in helping patients manage their conditions, the health system generates less revenue due to fewer emergency room visits, tests and procedures.

The stories I heard this week illustrate the important role of payment redesign to accelerate improvement in health care delivery and to control costs. The Alliance has been actively working toward this goal for over a decade through the contracts we hold with providers in our network and through policy advocacy at the state and national level.

And it’s not enough. That’s why The Alliance Board approved a new strategic initiative as part of our FY15 business plan to explore more fundamental changes to how we buy health care. We don’t yet know what this might look like, but we are committed to finding ways to use our role as purchasers of health care to create much needed, faster progress.

 

Cheryl DeMars

Cheryl DeMars

President & CEO at The Alliance
Cheryl DeMars joined The Alliance in 1992, assuming several roles before becoming CEO in December 2006. Cheryl works with the Board of Directors and senior leadership team to establish the strategic direction of the cooperative.

Cheryl participates in a number of national and regional initiatives that align with The Alliance’s mission of controlling costs, improving quality and engaging individuals in their health. She is a board member and former chair of the National Business Coalition on Health. She serves on the Advisory Board of the Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the board of the Wisconsin Collaborative for Healthcare Quality.

Prior to joining The Alliance, Cheryl was a program manager at Meriter Hospital in Madison. She earned a master's degree in social work from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Read blog posts by Cheryl.
Cheryl DeMars

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