CEO discusses complexity of U.S. health care

Valley Health’s community benefit report presented during semi-annual meeting

By Josette Keelor

WINCHESTER — Valley Health Services CEO Mark Merrill touched on the new relationship with Inova Health System and the Affordable Health Care Act during the corporation’s semi-annual luncheon Tuesday on the Winchester Medical Center campus.

Recognizing how rumors of Valley Health and Inova’s relationship have fostered fear that Inova bought out Valley Health, Merrill assured listeners that the two will continue to function independently.

The two systems have formed an alliance, he said, with the goal of allowing both to benefit in the fields of information technology, managed care, population health, supply chain, clinical program development and research.

As part of its plans for next year, Valley Health intends to deploy Epic, a software system described at www.epic.com as helping mid-size and large medical groups, hospitals and integrated healthcare organizations.

Also during the meeting, Chris Rucker, president of Valley Regional Enterprises and vice president of Valley Health Ambulatory & Wellness Services, presented information on Valley Health’s 2012 Community Benefit Report.

Valley Health conducts a community health needs assessment every three years, receiving input from business leaders, stakeholders, the educational sector and the general public to determine the key health issues affecting the community. That information identifies the community benefit and guides how Valley Health spends its money, time and resources in the community, Rucker said.

In 2012, Valley Health provided $76.9 million of community benefit based on IRS classification of deductible expense, a leap of 15 percent from 2011, according to the report. This includes $38.5 million in charity care and $26.2 million in Medicaid payment shortfall.

From 2009 to 2012, the community benefit was $247 million.

Speaking on what drives up health care costs, Merrill asked, “What’s the one word that will save your life?”

“Stop.” he said. “Or no?”

“Wrong site surgeries, wrong patient, wrong medication, incorrect dose — significant challenges in terms of complexity that we [nationally] deal with,” he said. “Very complex system to our health care, but again this is becoming more and more common.”

Valley Health, like other systems, also deals increasingly with grocery store pharmacies that provide not only pills and flu shots but also infusions and other treatments.

“What we’re seeing is a trend movement of volume to value,” he said. It used to be, “the more you do the more you earn.” Now the trick is, “Can we move from a volume-based health care system to a value based?” he said.

The good news, he said, is health care inflation is decreasing.

On the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, Merrill cited the plan’s goals: to increase coverage, reduce costs, improve quality and safety and to change our delivery system, but he said “It is incredibly complex.”

It has an eight-year implementation and has unintended or unknown consequences, he said. States can vote on whether or not to expand Medicaid as a result, and Merrill said, “The Commonwealth of Virginia has today elected not to expand Medicaid.”

Other concerns include possible security risks while signing up for coverage online and penalties for non-coverage, which so far are undetermined, he noted.

For anyone who isn’t a health legislation expert, “It is an unbelievably complicated piece of legislature,” Merrill said.

For more information about Valley Health Systems, visit www.valleyhealthlink.com.

Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com