MGMA: On the Road

Rick Johnson, for HealthLeaders News , October 25, 2007

The annual MGMA conference is next week, so I'm getting ready to hit the road to Philadelphia. This is the big medical group conference for the year, and I see it as a great opportunity to get out of my cluttered office and meet the people who are in the business of running medical practices.

I've been to several MGMA conferences in the past, and the association's staff puts together a good event, with lots of opportunities to learn and network. The timing couldn't be better for me, because I just got back from HealthLeaders Media's Top Leadership Teams in Healthcare event. As I reported last week, I heard what senior executives consider to be the top physician-relations issues. It will be interesting to compare those opinions with the challenges medical groups are facing today.

Thumbing through the conference brochure, I find several sessions that I'm sure will lead to stories here in PhysicianLeaders. Some of the topics are to be expected, like physician recruitment, EHR implementation, and performance management. But others point to some of the new trends that are beginning to emerge, such as hospital-physician integration, starting a cash-based practice, and one ominously called "tips on survival for independent practices."

In addition to attending sessions and meeting practice administrators, I also find it interesting to wander the exhibit hall--it never fails to amaze me how many companies stay afloat by servicing medical groups.

As I wrap things up here in the office, I have a few random thoughts:

More interest in VEBAs. Did you notice how quickly the voluntary employee benefit association--or VEBA--that the United Auto Workers and General Motors agreed on has caught on? Not only are other automakers considering following in GM's footsteps, but now communications companies AT&T and Verizon may shift to union-run health funds. I got some insight into this developing story from Glenn Melnick, a professor for University of Southern California and a Health Economist for RAND.

Here's what Melnick had to say in an e-mail to me: "It is only fitting, really, that the UAW, who helped popularize expensive, first dollar health insurance coverage in America now has the opportunity and incentives to help solve the problem of rapidly rising healthcare costs and widespread system inefficiencies. Under the VEBA arrangement, the UAW will now be at risk for controlling health spending by their members that includes a large population (500,000+) of retirees. As such, they may and should consider experimenting with alternative models ranging from capitation (low out of pocket) to consumer directed plans (high out of pocket) and maybe some hybrids models. They will need to control healthcare spending or their fund may be exhausted prematurely. This is exciting since their population, retirees, are the most expensive to care for and there will be 80 million retirees in the U.S. in 25 years. They have an opportunity to lead the way, not just for their members but for all of America's retirees."

The bottom line. As I noted in a recent newsletter, the Top Leadership Teams event provided great access into the perspectives of senior healthcare executives. While I was at the show, I provided a quick dispatch on the event's keynote address from Michael Sachs, chairman of Sg2, a research and consulting firm for healthcare business and technology.

Here's a quick quote that I thought was particularly on point for physician leaders: "For whatever service you're providing today, you're going to be paid less tomorrow," Sachs said. "And if you don't put your plans in place today to operate in that environment, you're going to end up tomorrow in a big gap situation, because the government . is going to drive those prices down."

Not a great prediction for medical groups with thin margins.

Go Sox! It looks like I will be watching the final game of the World Series in Philadelphia. I'm assuming the Red Sox won't make it a four-game sweep, and the Rockies take at least one game. As good as the Sox looked last night in their 13-1 thrashing of Colorado, I'm hoping game four won't be the clincher. I'm flying that night, and business travel can be stressful enough without constantly wondering how many runs the Sox have. I suspect once we land, I'll be able to find somewhere to get an update on the score.

My colleague, Elyas Bakhtiari, who writes a newsletter on physician compensation and recruitment, will also be attending. The two of us will publish stories from the conference daily, so stay tuned-and go Red Sox!

Rick Johnson is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media. He can be reached at

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