CEO Message

Thrive, Always

“Thrive” — an excellent reminder that we and all those around us deserve the chance to flourish and prosper. It speaks to the values Bernard Tyson lived, not just as a health care professional, but as someone who cared about leaving the world a better place.

And he did.

Which is why so many of us were shocked and saddened by the news of his death last weekend. As chairman and CEO of Kaiser Permanente, he played on the largest health care stages in the country — a leader known for his vision and his compassion, and a tremendous capacity for making a difference.

Tyson worked at Kaiser Permanente for more than 30 years, and under his leadership the organization grew to 12.3 million members and 218,000 employees, but his legacy endures in so many other ways.

There are the 41 affordable apartments in Oakland that Kaiser Permanente purchased to help shelter people experiencing homelessness — a passion of Tyson’s, who tirelessly advocated for providers to address challenges like health equity and the social factors that affect people’s health.

There’s his dedication to destigmatizing behavioral health, putting it on equal footing with physical health, and shifting his organization toward integrating mental health with primary care.

And there’s his undeniable impact on health care delivery — illustrated in the way he guided his own organization, with a focus on high-quality care, delivered as affordably as possible, so it can be accessible to as many people as possible.

Tyson was a pioneer in recognizing that health care, in the truest sense of the words, is more than treating a physical ailment. With that understanding, he took on issues like racial justice, food insecurity, and workforce diversity.

We are fortunate to have learned from and been inspired by the example he set.

Personally, and in my role representing California’s hospitals, we extend our most sincere sympathies to Bernard’s wife and children, and to everyone in the Kaiser Permanente family, for the loss of a beloved partner, father, and leader.

Perhaps there is no more fitting tribute than Tyson’s own explanation of the motto he championed:

“Thrive is all about answering the question of who we are…we’re an organization that understands that every day people wake up to live the dream of America…and Thrive says, ‘That’s what you should be doing, and we want to help you achieve that with good health’.”

— Carmela

Hospitals Joining Forces Can Expand Access and Quality — and Shrink Costs

“When considering cost containment, are researchers and policymakers considering hospital system membership separate from market concentration? They probably should.”

That tweet, posted by the University of Southern California’s Schaeffer Center for Health Policy & Economics, references a study it just published on hospital system participation and health care spending. The study offers an important counter-perspective to the conventional wisdom that hospital “systemness” increases costs.

Recent public discourse about hospital integration often assumes that it contributes to overall health care spending, but the USC researchers discovered some trends to the contrary that must be considered:

Hospital system membership and market concentration are two different issues. The researchers found that hospital systems are not strongly correlated with market concentration and tend to have a broad reach beyond geographic markets. 
States with the highest proportion of system hospitals tend to have lower per capita hospital costs. California ranks as the ninth lowest state in per capita hospital costs (75% of hospitals beds in the state are part of hospital systems).

What we also know about hospitals that join forces within systems is that they improve their ability to leverage resources, innovation, and technology. This creates efficiencies for coping with burdensome regulations and enables a shift of resources to quality initiatives. In many areas — like rural and underserved communities — system integration preserves access to care by keeping open hospitals that might otherwise shutter.

Patient care in the 21st century has meant more hospitals reinventing themselves to meet their patients’ and communities’ needs by integrating and, in so doing, creating more options for people to get the right care at the right time and in the right setting.

This new data suggesting hospital systems yield lower health care spending means that policy makers will need to reconsider some common assumptions if they want to preserve high-quality care while keeping costs in check.

In 2020, as California lawmakers focus more keenly than ever on the issue of health care affordability, integration will be part of the discussion — and studies like these, which demonstrate the need for more research, will be critical to shifting the tone in the Capitol.

— Carmela

On Behavioral Health, ‘…No State More Capable…’

About a year ago, the Behavioral Health Action Coalition held a historic forum focused on mental health and substance use disorders in California, featuring then-Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. This week, in a much-deserved recognition, the coalition named Gov. Newsom a Behavioral Health Champion.

CHA co-founded Behavioral Health Action in 2018 with the National Alliance for Mental Illness, California, to lead a partnership of more than 50 organizations from health care, education, labor, law enforcement, local government, and business — all focused on eliminating stigma and engaging lawmakers to develop solutions to the behavioral health challenges faced by millions of Californians (check out all of our efforts here and here).

The coalition’s one-on-one conversation with Newsom shortly before his election to the governor’s office was a catalyst for something new in California: As lieutenant governor, he was the highest-ranking statewide official to meet with such a wide array of behavioral health professionals.

That forum was the beginning not just of a high-level public discussion about the needs of people who face behavioral health challenges — but also the beginning of meaningful statewide change. As he said then about the need for California to set an example for the nation, “[there is] no state more capable than this state to truly lead in this space.”

Once in office, Gov. Newsom quickly announced a first-ever special advisor on mental health care, Tom Insel, MD, who continues to advance the conversation on improving lives and innovating behavioral health care. And, the governor has — most importantly  — championed mental health funding on a statewide level.

This year’s state budget recognizes the need for mental health workforce development with $150 million, including $20 million for hospitals to use in emergency departments. It also includes $100 million for whole person care pilot programs, and $70 million for Medi-Cal integration programs.

We were grateful a year ago when he sat down to talk with us and pledged his commitment, and we are grateful now for the important steps he has already taken to help make California a global model for behavioral health.

To borrow from Gov. Newsom: “This is an issue that demands to be treated on par with physical health… and with a sense of urgency.”

Half of us will care for someone living with a mental health issue at some point in our lives. If we are to make good on our commitment to improve lives and relieve suffering, we need to continue to support leaders like Gov. Newsom who champion a better system to care for those with behavioral health needs.

— Carmela

Safety-Net Hospitals Need Congress to Protect Patients

It’s easy to be distracted by the news coming out of Washington, D.C., these days, much of which has little to do with sound policies that advance hospitals’ efforts to care for their patients. But on the issue of Medicaid disproportionate share hospital (DSH) payments, we cannot afford to lose focus in our fight against devastating funding cuts to hospitals that serve the uninsured and underinsured.

This issue tops our current federal advocacy priorities because it is time sensitive: the DSH cuts were scheduled to take effect on Oct. 1 but were briefly delayed by the current temporary spending bill. When that measure expires on Nov. 21, unless the cuts are eliminated or further delayed, they will take effect immediately.

Now is the time for a full-court press urging Congress to continue this vital source of funding for safety-net hospitals.

Medicaid DSH cuts were adopted as part of the Affordable Care Act, on the assumption that the number of uninsured Americans would decrease more than it has. In California, 2.9 million people remain without health insurance. Those patients are disproportionately served by our safety-net hospitals, which rely heavily on DSH payments to offset the cost of the uncompensated care they provide.

As planned, the cuts will be unsustainable for California’s safety-net hospitals, reducing DSH allotments in the state by $500 million in 2020 and by about $950 million a year from 2021 through 2025.

So far, members of Congress have been willing to delay these drastic reductions while millions remain without coverage, but the time has come to once again impress upon Congress the essential nature of DSH payments to safety-net hospitals and their patients. To that end, CHA is leading an effort to press the California congressional delegation to sign a letter that urges House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to support eliminating the cuts for another two years. 

Next week, we’ll be sending an Advocacy Alert to member hospitals, asking you to contact your representative about signing the letter. This is an issue that all hospitals should care about — because cuts of this magnitude will jeopardize access to care for millions.

For lawmakers to support a policy that diminishes access to care for California’s most vulnerable patients is unacceptable. It is incumbent upon all of us to let them know that.

— Carmela

Fight to Save 340B Is a Fight to Save Vital Hospital Services

When Congress created the 340B Drug Pricing Program over 25 years ago to help safety-net hospitals pay for prescription drugs, it set up a unique government program that costs taxpayers nothing but makes vital medications available to millions of uninsured and low-income patients. 

By requiring participating Medicaid drug manufacturers to sell their outpatient drugs at discounted prices to providers in underserved communities, the 340B program has also created the ability to expand community health investments, which hospitals are able to make, in part, thanks to the savings they realize from discounted drug prices. These investments include programs like preventive health screenings and mobile clinics.

340B drug discounts are crucial to patients and hospitals in vulnerable communities. That’s why, when the program itself became vulnerable to state and federal proposals this year, CHA intensified efforts in both Sacramento and Washington, D.C., to protect 340B hospitals.

At the federal level, a proposal to reduce Medicare reimbursement rates for some 340B-covered drugs has been challenged by a lawsuit and, while a court has stalled the rate reduction, it hasn’t yet been ruled out. Meanwhile, CHA is urging the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to move forward with full retroactive adjustments that are not budget neutral for 340B hospitals.

In California, Gov. Newsom issued an executive order early this year creating a single drug purchasing system and transitioning the Medi-Cal pharmacy benefit out of managed care and into fee-for-service. This will impact some 20 hospitals in the 340B program — specifically, those that dispense 340B-purchased drugs to Medi-Cal managed care beneficiaries through their retail pharmacy will now be paid the actual acquisition cost of the drug plus a dispensing fee, which might be lower than what they are paid under managed care. We’re convening the affected hospitals to more fully understand the implications of the proposed changes.

As we keep a watchful eye on the outcome of proposals and changes for 340B hospitals, it is imperative that we ensure lawmakers understand the remarkable care that 340B hospitals provide with programs like expanded mental health services, urban and rural primary care clinics, transportation to medical appointments, and so much more — created specifically to meet their patients’ most pressing needs.

In the meantime, if your hospital participates in the 340B program and hasn’t yet signed on to the American Hospital Association’s 340B Good Stewardship Principles, we encourage you to do so. AHA has posted the names of hospitals that have committed so far, but it’s not too late to make the pledge. It’s an important step that more than 85% of California’s 340B-covered hospitals have already taken — a way of demonstrating their value to their communities and amplifying the importance of this essential program.

— Carmela

New Meaning for ‘Keeping the Lights On’

This week, California communities experienced the largest intentional blackout yet in the latest power company strategy for mitigating fire risk during extremely dry and windy conditions.

Intended to keep power lines from sparking potentially devastating fires, utility companies intentionally cut electrical power for nearly 1 million people — and their hospitals ­— across the state over the past few days (even more experienced the uncertainty of pending planned outages). 

The question that should be at the top of every Californian’s mind is, “When does a public safety power shutoff jeopardize public safety?”

Hospitals, of course, are better prepared for these events than most other businesses and residents. You’ve got expertise, your staff is well trained, and you have backup generators — as a matter of course, your disaster preparedness plans and requirements kick in and you’re poised to continue caring for patients.

But we know that managing and sustaining the complex and life-saving work that happens in a hospital during a power outage is challenging and not without risk. Surgeries must be preemptively rescheduled, nurse shortages grow as workers are faced with addressing the needs of their own children and families, and all are on high alert to ensure the power backup plan holds. In the community, people in need of nursing homes and dialysis centers are at risk, diabetics with home refrigerators full of insulin are at risk, and people in need of home medical supports are at risk. Add the uncertainty about when power will be restored to public safety concerns, because longer term outages are fraught with greater risk. 

Wildfires can be destructive, with devastating impact for the individuals and communities involved. The risk of fire is greater than it has ever been, but so too is the growing risk to health and safety caused by widespread power outages. If this is the power companies’ public safety strategy for California, it is unacceptable. The way the shutoffs have been rolled out and managed must change. Preventing the need for shutoffs in the first place is the goal. 

Together, CHA and the Regional Associations will press the power companies, state government, and regulators for better. We’ve been working with Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas & Electric, and local government officials to ensure they grasp the obstacles you must overcome during power shutoffs, in order to continue providing seamless care. And we’ll press for additional solutions.

We want to hear about and collect your experiences. If your hospital has been affected by one of the public safety power shutoff events, please share your story with us via email.

In the meantime, thank you for standing strong for your communities. For hundreds of thousands of Californians this week, their homes and businesses were dark, but the lights were on — as always — at their local hospital.

— Carmela

On Independent Contractor Issues, End of Legislative Session Means Work Begins

Shortly after the Legislature adjourned in September, Gov. Newsom signed into law one of the year’s highest profile — and most controversial — bills, Assembly Bill 5. This law seriously limits employing workers as independent contractors and requires them to be hired and treated as employees instead.

It was intended to protect workers paid less than the minimum wage who don’t receive benefits or protections in their contracting relationships, but not designed for independent health professionals like physical therapists, counselors, and perfusionists — who earn solid wages and often prefer to make their own decisions about what their working relationships will be.

Now that it has become law, this issue and its far-reaching implications for hospitals and health care employees remain one of CHA’s highest priorities.

For now, it appears hospitals will need to reclassify some of their licensed health care professionals from independent contractors to employees. The law also includes requirements for business-to-business relationships, which means hospitals will need to closely reexamine their service contracts, including registries or other staffing companies.

To help you and your staff make sense of it and the many other labor laws enacted this year, CHA will host a webinar on Oct. 30, and next week we’ll be sharing more details and insight about AB 5.

Before it passed the Legislature, CHA joined a large employer coalition to advocate for changes to the bill, and we made headway toward helping lawmakers understand that eliminating employment choice for health care professionals threatens access to care.

As we presented amendments that would have exempted health care workers, the political environment at the Capitol deteriorated. Other industries threatened lawsuits and initiatives, and the bill’s proponents refused to take any more amendments. The progress we’d made was thwarted.

Despite the negative outcome, the advocacy and education work this year laid an important foundation for what happens next. Many legislators heard that if hospitals can’t call on specialty care professionals such as occupational or physical therapists (because they aren’t employees), hospitals will lose flexibility in responding to quickly changing patient needs.

We also saw wide coverage of our messages in statewide news outlets, and we made a strong statement when nearly 60 health care professionals whose jobs would be directly affected converged on the state Capitol for meetings in 30 different lawmakers’ offices.

We’ll build on that work in 2020 to clarify the use of independent contractors for hospitals and health professionals.

Protecting patients in California by preserving their access to all health care professionals — when and how they need them — is too important to leave uncertain.

— Carmela

One Team – United in Purpose, Principles, and Practice

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. — African Proverb

This message is a bit of an experiment.

It’s the first time the four of us, your association CEOs, are writing to our members collectively. And there’s an important occasion for this new approach.

Over the past year, we and our teams have made a purposeful, sustained effort to improve the way we work together, so that we can be more effective when advocating for hospitals, more efficient when drawing on each other’s expertise, and, ultimately, better at providing you with the best possible experience whenever you need us.

When it comes to the California Hospital Association, the Hospital Council – Northern & Central California, the Hospital Association of Southern California, and the Hospital Association of San Diego and Imperial Counties, there is no wrong door, and our teams are more connected than ever to make sure you get the help you need from the right person.

What does this look like in practice?

It’s a full continuum of advocacy — at the municipal, county, state, and federal levels, so you’re covered no matter where help is needed.

This is only possible thanks to the work over the past year to build a unified team from four disparate organizations — efforts that have yielded an unprecedented level of collaboration, as we’re eliminating redundant practices, leveraging internal expertise, and sharing information like never before.

All of this is powered by a new vision for our associations — the One Team concept. This paradigm breaks down those all-too-common, invisible work walls and helps each team member focus on what they, as individuals, can do to advance a goal.

From Eureka to San Diego, Sacramento to Los Angeles, and east to Washington, D.C., you have the full support of every one of your associations, and that support is strengthened by the work we’ve done (and continue to do) to amplify each other’s strengths.

Put another way, we are an integrated team, across the state, working for you.

We are four associations serving the same members.

We are one team, united in purpose and principles.

And we are grateful to you, our members — for your trust in us to support the life-saving and life-changing work you do each day for the people of California.

— Carmela, Bryan, George, Dimitrios

As 2019 Session Closes, Focus Turns Toward DC

With the legislative year coming to an end in Sacramento last week, and important signing decisions yet to be made by the Governor, our advocacy in Washington, D.C., is heating up.

Congress returned Sept. 9 facing a full legislative agenda. Because neither party wants another government shutdown, the House of Representatives passed a measure to keep funding flowing through Nov. 21. The Senate is expected to consider that legislation in the next few days.  

There’s also a full slate of health care issues up for debate in the coming months, so it was important that we took the opportunity last week, alongside nearly two dozen of California’s hospital CEOs, and with our partners at the American Hospital Association, to spend time with members of the California congressional delegation to discuss the issues most important to your hospitals and your patients. 

As we made the rounds on Capitol Hill, some common themes emerged: 

• Surprise billing: This issue is top of mind for Congress. Over the summer, one House committee reported legislation, the No Surprises Act; two others are expected to craft additional bills, and we could see a House floor vote sometime this fall. This week, the issue took on a new depth when the House announced an investigation into private equity firms that own physician-staffing companies, and whether they use out-of-network billing as an intentional strategy. In the meantime, we’ll keep reinforcing our message that hospitals support taking patients out of the middle when it comes to out-of-network bills, but we stand firmly against rate setting as part of the solution.

• Eliminating payment cuts to Medicaid disproportionate share hospitals (DSH): Set to take effect Oct. 1, cuts to Medicaid DSH hospitals will be unsustainable for many hospitals and could sever the safety net for your most vulnerable patients. We’re fighting hard on this one, urging that the cuts be eliminated or – at a minimum – delayed. The good news is that we have strong support in Congress, and a delay in the cuts for the first quarter of the 2020 fiscal year is part of the current House bill to temporarily fund the government. It’s good to be part of “must-pass” legislation, and we’ll keep pressing to get this done.

• Drug pricing: Reducing consumer drug prices remains a high priority for both Congress and the president. As we monitor those evolving efforts, we’re engaged in discussions with California congressional leaders to fully understand the various forms any pending legislation might take, as well as any impact on patients and hospitals.

As we continue to fight for policies that help you care for your patients and communities, last week’s meetings in the nation’s capital make clear that our greatest strength is in our unity, and when you lend your personal voice to the conversation, our message resonates. Thanks to all of our AHA regional policy board representatives who traveled to set the stage for our senators and representatives as they prepare to make decisions that will affect all of your hospitals.

— Carmela

Taking Stock and Looking Forward

In just a few hours, the state Legislature will officially wrap up its 2019 session. This was a particularly challenging year for our work to protect your ability to care for patients, as a new Democratic supermajority opened the door for several brazen policy proposals detrimental to hospitals. And the session saw a record number of bills (more than 3,000) introduced, so the pace was fast and furious. Factor in the uncertainty about how a new governor would respond to this environment, and you’ve got a volatile legislative mix for the past nine months.

Despite these dynamics, significant progress was made on several goals that support your work. This includes:

Expanding Coverage and Access

Through the state budget, advanced several board-approved priorities, including Medi-Cal coverage to undocumented adults age 19-25; insurance subsidies for families earning between 400 and 600% of the federal poverty level; and a state-level individual mandate for coverage.
Advanced a bill that codifies current training and data reporting practices to support reducing racial disparities in maternal health.
Secured passage of a bill that ensures insurance companies reimburse providers for care rendered during and after natural disasters.

Protection From Onerous Regulations

Halted momentum on a bill that, in an effort to ban surprise billing, would have set rates for insurance companies to pay hospitals for out-of-network emergency care. The bill will resurface in 2020, and CHA will continue to oppose rate regulation while supporting patient billing protections.
Sponsored a bill to offer relief from the state’s outdated 2030 hospital seismic standards. At our request, the bill has been extended into 2020 to help ensure uninterrupted care following a disaster.
Defeated a bill to give workers’ compensation benefits to hospital employees with certain illnesses and injuries unless the hospital could provide evidence the employee did not contract the illness or injury at work.
On a community benefits reporting bill, secured amendments so the bill no longer includes a percentage of Medicare reimbursement for the definition of charity care, limits reportable community benefits programs, or requires new regulations. 

Investments in Behavioral Health

Leveraging the behavioral health awareness work of Behavioral Health Action, a CHA co-led coalition, we helped secure hundreds of millions in investments in mental health and substance use disorder treatment.

A smaller number of bills didn’t go our way, but we’ll regroup heading into 2020 and try to resolve anything that hinders your ability to provide care. Here’s how they ended up:

Nurse staffing ratio penalties: Excessive penalties for noncompliance remain, but we secured amendments creating significant flexibility to meet ratios when encountering “unpredictable” and “uncontrollable” circumstances, and removing a prescriptive mandate on how hospitals should attempt to fill vacant spots.
Independent contractors: Fought but failed to defeat a bill that would prohibit hospitals from contracting with many health care professionals. This sweeping legislation affects dozens of employment sectors, and we plan join with them to consider future legislative and legal remedies.
Supplier diversity reporting: Secured important amendments that delay implementation until July 2021 and permit systems to report at the systemwide level. The bill remains problematic because it ignores the purchasing patterns of multi-state systems and hospitals that work with national group purchasing organizations.

Your phone calls, emails, and face-to-face visits with legislators were integral to our advocacy success this year. Thank you for your partnership and commitment. Gov. Newsom now has until Oct. 13 to sign or veto any bills — we’ll keep you apprised of those outcomes as they unfold.

— Carmela