Business leaders in Colorado have a new advocate to help them with health care legislation, employment and reform issues: The Business Health Forum.
“We see a need to get business leaders engaged in the process,” said Ralph Pollock, the forum’s executive director. “Business leaders don’t have a voice right now; they don’t have dedicated staff to cover these health care issues. And yet, health care is a major concern for them.”
At the top of the list is rising costs.
“Even if they aren’t paying for it, they’re paying for it,” Pollock said. “The costs shift to higher premiums, higher costs for the employer. It’s a crucial time. There are lots of community issues coming up; the state/children’s health plan is up for renewal; the 208 Commission will release its report this fall.”
The 208 Commission has been charged with determining ways to expand health care coverage, especially for the underinsured and uninsured, to decrease health care costs.
Paul Rosser, assistant professor and lead faculty member of Regis University’s health care management specialty MBA program, said there is a need for a group like the Business Health Forum.
“Small businesses — with 50 employees or less — make up a huge number of Colorado businesses,” he said. “And those owners are so busy doing their job, they don’t have time to become aware, and then become invested in the process. It just doesn’t rank high on their list.”
Rosser, who has written about the link between business and health care, said the problem stems from workers considering health care as a benefit of employment. But increasingly, neither employers nor workers can afford health care insurance premiums.
And despite several new options — including health savings accounts and wellness programs — neither the price nor the demand for health care is decreasing.
Rosser said he believes business should influence the interactions between patients and providers and help to create behavior changes.
“The best and most challenging news for employers is the availability of numerous sources of information upon which to base decisions,” he said. “This may awaken a new force for change. But, as with the case of any activity with which little or no immediate revenue is associated, the efforts to make informed decisions are another cost, at a time when margins for many American companies are tightened by competition and regulation.”
The Business Health Forum hopes to engage the business community by hosting programs throughout the state in conjunction with local chambers of commerce and economic development corporations.
“We’ve had a pretty good response,” Pollock said. “But everything in the state seems Denver-centric. We’re trying to avoid that, we want a response from everyone.”
Mike Kazmierski, CEO of the Colorado Springs Economic Development Corp., said the EDC would welcome working with the Business Health Forum, as it does with other organizations across the Front Range.
“We’re pushing hard to connect closely with other communities, and this would be another way of doing that,” he said. “I think any effort tends to be more effective if done on a regional basis.”
The Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce is already deeply involved in the health care debate, said President Will Temby.
“We’d be happy to talk to this new group, if they are doing something complementary to what we’re doing,” he said. “But we really feel that we have our ‘eyes on the ball’ as far as what’s going on with the state and the 208 Commission.”
The chamber is currently working with the local health care community to create a business pool for affordable and accessible health care, he said. It has a legislative watch group that keeps track of health care legislation — and lobbies the General Assembly.
“We’re working very closely with the Colorado Health Partners to have the chamber’s voice included at the 208 Commission,” Temby said. “We’re going to have the chamber at the table to help them navigate the business side of the health care issue.”
And what can the chamber and EDC officials hope to hear from Colorado’s newest effort to combine business interests with health care?
Mostly, they’ll hear about what’s going on inside the legislature’s commission on health care reform, health care issues in the General Assembly and other efforts being spearheaded by Gov. Bill Ritter.
But they won’t be told which side to take on any issue, Pollock said.
“We’re going to be talking to businesses about how to get involved, and at what level,” he said. “We’ll provide information that affects businesses to encourage their participation in the debate — but what level they get involved in, and which side of the issue, is up to them.”
As part of the online services, the Business Health Forum also offers a blog that allows participants the chance to comment and discuss major issues.