Salazar:  Parts of health bill good

Uncertain that a large health care package can win passage in Congress, U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., is looking for parts of the package that move forward.

Salazar, whose 3rd Congressional District includes most of the Western Slope, got support Saturday for one strand of the plan — allowing the federal government to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies — from the head of Rocky Mountain Health Plans, Steve ErkenBrack.

ErkenBrack said Congress also should tread carefully when it considers lifting the health care antitrust exemption so as not to damage collaborative efforts such as what has become known as the Grand Junction model.

The Grand Junction model is characterized by the close collaboration of several nonprofit organizations, including Rocky Mountain Health Plans, Community and St. Mary’s hospitals, an independent physicians association and several other groups, including Quality Health Network, which handles a network of electronic medical records.

Collaboration and sharing of information is key to the ability of the Grand Junction model to hold down costs to one-third of national averages and deliver quality health care, ErkenBrack said.

If the Department of Health and Human Services could negotiate with drug companies, as the Department of Veterans Affairs is allowed to do, “We could save $250 billion a year over 10 years,” Salazar said.

“It makes sense to allow those negotiations,” ErkenBrack said.

Existing law prohibits such negotiations.

Salazar sought out ErkenBrack for a meeting Saturday afternoon at Salazar’s Grand Junction office. Salazar was headed back to his Alamosa ranch from Washington, D.C.

It’s difficult to estimate the cost savings of using electronic medical records, but the Grand Junction model doesn’t include them as a cost-saving measure, ErkenBrack said to questioning from Salazar.

“This has all been focused on quality,” he said, citing immediate access to electronic records as being helpful to physicians, hospitals and other providers when making treatment decisions.

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., is moving to encourage the rest of the country to take up a Grand Junction innovation, easing the transition for patients being released from the hospital so they don’t need to be readmitted soon after.

Offering rewards for performance by cutting hospital readmission rates could result in significant cost savings generally, ErkenBrack said.

Rocky Mountain HMO and other parts of the Grand Junction model are working to expand beyond Mesa County to include physicians, hospitals and other organizations in the network.

Delta, Garfield, Gunnison, Montrose, Pitkin and Rio Blanco counties form Rocky Mountain Health Plan’s immediate service area, but the company operates statewide. Including those areas in the exchange of clinical data through electronic record-sharing will extend the quality benefits and cost savings, ErkenBrack said.

Participants in the Grand Junction model have applied for $15 million shares in $225 million in federal stimulus funding for 15 “beacon” communities that have shown better ways to deliver health care.

The Grand Junction participants will pursue their plans even if they don’t receive the federal grant, ErkenBrack said.


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