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The right steps to take on health care reform

Over the next few months, the U.S. health care system will undergo sweeping changes designed to improve the health, treatment and the overall well-being of Americans. The challenge — and goal — will be to achieve better outcomes, expand coverage and stem soaring costs.

Advancing health care reform is no simple task, but it is a necessary one that will require a collective effort. It is essential that everyone participate — from caregivers, hospitals and insurers to our political leaders and fellow Americans — so that we can successfully shift the focus to wellness, prevention and personal responsibility.

While recent media coverage has tried to focus on political differences about how we implement health care reform, it's important to set the record straight on all that we agree on. Keeping people healthy and providing the best possible treatment transcends political lines. Florida Blue has worked closely with both political parties on reforming how we approach our individual health and our health care system, and we will continue to do so.

The one unavoidable feature of reform is the price tag that must be paid — whether it comes from the federal or state governments, from those with private insurance or through higher taxes. But we know that increasing taxes to make care affordable will have precisely the opposite result. Any tax on the system will ultimately impact the consumer who pays the bill.

One need look no further than the new health care law to understand the implications. Younger people will face higher costs to subsidize the costs for older people. Therefore, at the end of the day, we must do everything we can to limit those costs.

Serving as the chief executive of Florida Blue, our state's largest insurer, we have a major role in this endeavor. Our mission is to help people and communities achieve better health by increasing access to health care, bolstering affordability and ensuring the delivery of quality care throughout Florida's communities.

To achieve our mission in this new era, Florida Blue's role will be much more than simply providing insurance. We are already becoming an innovative health solutions company that focuses both on preventative measures and treatment. By doing so, we will be able to stay ahead of the curve, develop initiatives that address our state's health needs and help rein in runaway costs.

First, it is critical that we commit to keeping people healthy in the first place, a major driver to keeping costs in check. Florida Blue is already making significant investments in the areas of wellness education, preventative screenings and other lifestyle programs such as exercise classes, instruction on better eating habits and addiction cessation efforts.

In that vein, when the health exchanges open in a few short weeks, there will be a significant opportunity to change the way Americans think about health care — something everyone agrees we must do. As hundreds of thousands of Florida residents who do not have health insurance consider signing up for coverage, we should emphasize individual responsibility for wellness, preventative care and treatment.

With more people participating in their own health and in the health care system, we will see improved outcomes which are also more cost effective. That's because people can take better care of themselves and have greater potential to catch potentially life-threatening illnesses early. And, fewer people end up in the emergency room where the highest costs are incurred.

And, second, when we do get sick and go to the doctor or the hospital, we can all agree that we simply want to feel better and quickly. Florida Blue has led the way with partnerships with caregivers throughout the state, introducing programs such as Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) which engage a full team to provide patients with integrated care.

Specifically, Florida Blue has partnered with the Tampa-based, nationally recognized Moffitt Cancer Center to develop an ACO focused on improving cancer treatment and care. This effort combines the expertise of the center's 330 oncology practitioners with Florida Blue's clinical and administrative claims data.

Additionally, Florida Blue sponsored the Florida Healthcare Innovation Competition in May to encourage health care innovation and entrepreneurship. Concepts by 19 "innovators" were presented to health care experts and industry executives.

This is a time of great change — and opportunity — in the health care industry. There are already many innovative approaches being tested and implemented, with more to come. In the end, we must all work together to keep our communities healthy and improve their health care outcomes.

Patrick Geraghty is CEO of Florida Blue, the state's largest health insurer. He wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.

The right steps to take on health care reform 09/13/13 [Last modified: Friday, September 13, 2013 5:59pm]
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