Dean’s Speaker Series: Health Policy

Experts Address Health Care at SPPD Panel

By Blaise Nutter

Athenian Society SPPD Dean's Speaker Series Chris Van Gorder, left, displays a medical device, as Dana Goldman, C. Duane Dauner, and Mike Nichol look on.
Photo by Tom Queally

Bringing together diverse perspectives from across the health care industry, the USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development hosted the latest in its 2009-10 Dean’s Speaker Series, a panel discussion focusing on leadership in health care policy.

Co-hosted by the SPPD Athenian Society, the school’s philanthropic support group, and the Camden Group, a leading health care management consulting firm, the event was held April 29 at the J.W. Marriott at L.A. Live.

The discussion touched on topics such as the role of emerging technology, the recently passed health care bill and the reasons for rising health care costs.

The panel included C. Duane Dauner, president and CEO of the California Hospital Association, one of the nation’s largest state health care associations; Chris Van Gorder, president and CEO of Scripps Health, a San Diego-based nonprofit health care system; and Dana Goldman, holder of the Norman Topping/National Medical Enterprises Chair in Medicine and Public Policy at USC.

The economics of health care took center stage, and new technology was named as a key way to cut costs. To Van Gorder, wireless technology is the way of the future; he demonstrated a Band-Aid-size Holter monitor, a wireless ultrasound machine, and even pills with embedded microchips to ensure proper usage.

“This is just a fraction of the devices and tools being invented,” Van Gorder said. “We can monitor patients outside the hospital, prevent their admission to the hospital or prevent their readmission to the hospital and could literally save millions.” Dauner cautioned that technological innovations on the therapeutic and diagnostic sides would become economically feasible much faster than on the information technology side, where the adoption of modern medical record infrastructure will be slow and very costly. Goldman also saw issues arising from the high costs of new treatments. “When health care gets expensive, we set up a system of insiders and outsiders,” said Goldman, who directs the Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics at USC. “For people who can afford it, we have what some would argue the best medical system in the world, but for those who cannot afford it, as a consequence of all this technology, they don’t have access to the type of care that we would like to deliver.”

Opinions differed on the relative merits of the health care reform bill, passed by Congress in March, and whether it was tackling the right issues at the right time.

“This is much more groundbreaking than Medicare and Medicaid,” said Dauner, who thought the bill presented a great, but very challenging, opportunity. He believed reform would only succeed if it led to an alignment of incentives among the many parties in health care.

Goldman, however, felt the public debate on reform was on the wrong track. “The good that we want is not service. The good that we want is health, so we should be paying on the basis of health, not health care service.”

While Van Gorder voiced concern that providers would be stuck paying for reform, he was enthusiastic about the possibility of better integration across all aspects of health care, reducing the fragmentation of care and the amount of administrative handoffs, which are where most safety errors occur. He also noted that another major issue yet to be resolved is Medicare and unfunded mandates.

California was named as one of the states with a health care system at most risk, but Dauner explained that real changes in policy were unlikely because term limits gave politicians the incentive to make short-term decisions rather than long-term ones. Professor Michael Nichol, the director of SPPD’s graduate programs in health, moderated the discussion.

In his introductory remarks, Nichol outlined plans for the future of the master’s program and executive master’s program in health administration, which would help students contribute real solutions to today’s complex questions.

“One of the things we’re going to be doing,” Nichol said, “is building a series of specializations,” giving students a competitive advantage in key areas like information technology, management operations, health care finance, policy and quality of care.