The chief executive of a Triangle nonprofit hospital system chided several hundred health care executives for corporate greed on the second and final day of an annual CEO Forum held at the North Ridge Country Club in Raleigh.
Donald Gintzig, CEO of WakeMed Health & Hospitals, was one of the event’s featured speakers Friday, a day when much of the discussion turned to the perennial topic of runaway health care costs. After extolling 56-year-old WakeMed’s tradition of caring for the region’s forgotten, vulnerable and indigent, Gintzig turned the tables on his industry peers.
“I’ll throw something out about mission and how important it is,” Gintzig offered casually.
“I’d say there might be one person in the room that got into health care to make money,” Gintzig said, affecting an aw-shucks folksy manner. “I know, I know ... you’ll find that shocking.”
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In a presentation punctuated by stage jokes, the audience fell silent when Gintzig morally implicated the executives arrayed before him.
“It’s a $3 trillion [industry] – how can I get my piece?” Gintzing deadpanned. “I care about patient and family first, buuuuuuut what is my multiple looking like? What am I trading at?”
Other forum speakers also addressed the cost issue, but spoke of the problem clinically. Cynthia Verst, president of clinical operations at Research Triangle Park’s QuintilesIMS, said costs mount because 80 percent of drug trials are delayed because of complications, so that it costs $2.6 billion to bring a drug from the laboratory bench to the patient’s bedside.
Brad Wilson, chief executive of Durham-based Blue Cross and Blue Shield, said the Affordable Care Act flooded the health insurance market with ill people in desperate need of costly procedures. Wilson also blamed rising costs on pharmaceutical prices, and a system that rewards practitioners for the number of procedures, rather than the quality of outcomes.
During a break, Rob Krieg, a health and welfare consultant with Raleigh and Greensboro benefits consultancy Hill, Chesson & Woody, said he was mostly hearing descriptions of whiz-bang technologies, like virtual functions and Big Data, but few cost solutions.
“A lot of it is a tour of the landscape right now,” Krieg said.
Gintzig’s rebuke to the health care industry comes at a time that President Donald Trump has criticized the pharmaceutical industry for astronomical prices, and Trump and the Republican-led Congress are moving ahead with their vow to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Uncertainty about what will replace the ACA loomed large at the CEO Forum, but many speakers predicted the nation is unlikely to go back to the days when insurance companies were allowed to reject applicants with pre-existing conditions, a practice banned under the ACA.
Gintzig, a former Rear Admiral in the U.S. Navy who joined WakeMed in 2013, suggested the cost crisis arises from the corporate culture of the health care industry. At the outset he warned the audience that he would be direct and started off his talk by asking if everyone was bored.
Gintzig acknowledged that money was important to organizations, but it wasn’t clear to him that everyone seated at the North Ridge Country Club ballroom represented a true value proposition.
“You have to add value,” Gintzig said. “But are you really adding value, or are you trying to get your time at the trough?”
During the question-and-answer session, Gintzig was asked what WakeMed is doing about excessive hospital charges. Gintzig responded that those charges pay for free care for the poor. Then he admonished the health care industry one last time.
“I’ve been doing this 30 years and never had anyone come to me and say, ‘Y’know, I’d love to build a hospital to care for poor people, but the certificate-of-need just won’t let me.’”
The certificate-of-need, or CON, refers to a state regulatory approval to build health care facilities and add costly equipment. The state permit is the main restraint on endless construction of medical profit centers, Gintzig suggested.
“We can have 412 surgery centers in Cary tomorrow if the certificate-of-need went away.”