by Dianne Kiehl
BHCG marks tenth anniversary of driving meaningful change
From the Executive Director

More than 10 years ago CEOs of several large Milwaukee area-based employers were growing increasingly frustrated with health care costs in southeast Wisconsin compared to other areas in the Midwest. “We knew that the health care costs we were paying in southeast Wisconsin were unsustainable,” recalls Frank Jaehnert, president and CEO of Brady Corporation. "We felt that a reduction in health care costs to a more competitive level while maintaining or improving the quality of care could only be beneficial for all of us living in southeast Wisconsin."

A study commissioned by the Greater Milwaukee Business Foundation on Health (GMBFH) confirmed what these CEOs already suspected – costs in southeast Wisconsin were indeed substantially higher. The study found that in 2003, health care costs in southeast Wisconsin were 39 percent above the Midwest average.

The CEOs realized that something needed to be done if our area was going to remain economically viable. They also understood it would take a number of employers speaking with one voice, with a common strategy, to impact the costs of health care in southeast Wisconsin. Ultimately, the Business Health Care Group (BHCG) was founded in 2003 by 11 corporations with headquarters in southeast Wisconsin to explore alternatives to contain health care costs in our area. Now, 10 years later, we are proud to say – as the name of our newsletter implies – that we served as a catalyst in driving meaningful change in addressing health care costs in southeast Wisconsin.

Since that 2003 report, the GMBFH has commissioned four additional studies. The table below shows the progress southeast Wisconsin has made in relation to the Midwest. Southeast Wisconsin costs have gone from 39 percent higher than the Midwest average in 2003 to only seven percent higher in 2011 (the most current data available) – a remarkable improvement in a relatively short period of time.

Southeast Wisconsin Costs: Percentage Above Midwest Average. 2003:39%; 2007:9%; 2009:8%; 2010:8%; 2011:7%

Over the past 10 years, the BHCG has been successful because of the strong commitment of our employer members, our collaboration with other health care stakeholders and the successful implementation of a number of strategies and initiatives including:

  • The selection of a single administrator, Humana, who supported a limited provider network delivering outstanding savings
  • Growing membership to more than 100,000 lives
  • Providing educational events and forums to share best practices among employers
  • Providing a forum for health care purchasers and providers to collaborate on solutions
  • Influencing statewide efforts to positively impact the value of health care in our state
  • Supporting employers in their efforts to make their employees educated purchasers of health care services
  • Promoting and supporting employers’ adoption of wellness programs

Obviously the BHCG and our employer members cannot take sole credit for the improving health care cost picture in southeast Wisconsin over the past 10 years. Health care providers, in particular, deserve credit for enhancing the value – which includes improved cost and quality – of the service they provide. We should all be justifiably proud of our progress.
For several years the BHCG has commissioned a study to assess how our members’ costs compare to southeast Wisconsin and Midwest and national averages. Each study has shown BHCG members’ costs below these benchmarks. Results of the latest study will be reported in the June edition of The Catalyst.

While much work remains to be done if we are going to realize our goal of ultimately getting health care costs at or below the Midwest average, we should all pause for a moment to reflect on the substantial progress we have made in 10 short years in improving the economic viability of our community. We look forward to another 10 years of positively impacting health care in our region.

The study included residents of Milwaukee, Waukesha, Racine, Ozaukee, Kenosha, Walworth and Washington counties.
Midwest defined as: Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska.

Source: Study of 2011 Southeast Wisconsin Community Healthcare Premium Costs, Greater Milwaukee Business Foundation on Health, Inc., December 4, 2012

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