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Business Coalition on Health hits 10th anniversary with 50 members, 1.5 million covered lives – The Business Journals

Back in 2012, as he was just settling into his new job as the founding director of the Greater Philadelphia Business Coalition on Health, Neil Goldfarb talked about his belief in the adage that there is strength in numbers — particularly when it comes to improving the quality, and lowering the cost, of health-care services.
“No one entity, even if it’s a large employer, is big enough to influence insurers and providers,” said Goldfarb, in an interview with the Business Journal at the time. “The Philadelphia region is long overdue for having a unified voice for the business community in working with health plans and care providers.”
Now, with the coalition about to celebrate its 10th anniversary with a shindig Nov. 10 at the Aramark building in Center City, Goldfarb reflected on the group’s formation, accomplishments and where it’s heading.
“I like to think we filled that void,” said Goldfarb, referring to the previous absence of a unified voice on health care matters. “When we started out, we had eight employer members representing 80,000 covered lives. Now we are at 50 employer members representing 1.5 million covered lives. I think that speaks to our members seeing value in what we do.”
Coalition members include Aramark (NYSE: ARMK), Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ), Day & Zimmermann, Lincoln Financial Group (NYSE: LNC), SEPTA and Wawa.
The Greater Philadelphia Business Coalition on Health was put together by Goldfarb, the former associate dean for research at what is now called the Jefferson College of Public Health, and the Philadelphia-based Public Health Management Corp. The coalition’s mission continues to be developing strategies to improve the value of health benefits by enhancing the quality and safety of the services while reducing costs, and promoting efforts to improve employee health,
During the unprecedented Covid-19 outbreak, the coalition became a place where employers could talk to each other about issues such as navigating office shutdowns, masking requirements and bringing employees back to work. The coalition also continually updated employers on the latest information about the virus.
Goldfarb said one of the coalition’s biggest accomplishments was also one of its earliest: obtaining status as a Leapfrog Group regional rollout. The Leapfrog Group is a voluntary watchdog organization that began in 1998 with the aim of mobilizing employer purchasing power to improve the quality and affordability of health care. The group has developed its own report card geared to consumers that compares hospital performances on safety and quality.
Before the coalition was formed, no Philadelphia-area hospitals participated in Leapfrog Group’s surveys. Goldfarb said he believed it was because nobody was asking them. The coalition started asking and in the first year just three out of 55 hospitals responded. The low number didn’t deter them.
“Now we are up to 78% of the hospitals participating [in the voluntary survey],” he said. “We have heard directly from hospital CEOs who said [the public reporting of the data] has stimulated them to invest more in quality and safety.”
On the employee wellness front, the coalition has worked with employers on obesity and diabetes prevention programs, and on how best to support workers with pre-diabetes or at high diabetes risk. Goldfarb said more than a dozen of their employer members have implemented programs for their workforces, and all of them have had success in helping people reduce their risk of developing diabetes, largely through weight loss. The coalition has also worked with employers on other steps such as the design of their health benefits, including coverage for anti-obesity medications, or wellness programs to help people with diabetes.
The coalition is currently working with CDC Foundation and HealthNEXT on a project helping seven of its employer member organizations build a “culture of health” designed to produce increased organizational performance, lower employee attrition rates, and improved employee health and well-being.
Goldfarb said one of the coalition’s next challenges is to work with hospitals on improved pricing for coalition members, many of whom self-insure their health benefit costs, during a time when fees continue to climb well above Medicare payment rates.
“Employers should be able to better negotiate price with hospitals,” he said. “I am sympathetic to hospitals [for the added expenses they incurred during Covid], but employers are under cost pressures too. Some hospitals are charging dramatically more than Medicare rates to patients with private insurance. We’ve always known there is cost shifting, but what amount is fair? With the increases we are seeing, employer-sponsored health insurance is not sustainable.”
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