Expectations High for HIGPA’s 10th EXPO

Despite changes facing the Health Industry Group Purchasing Association (HIGPA) and GPOs in general (see story on page 16), HIGPA President and CEO Robert Betz remains enthusiastic about the organization’s 10th Annual International EXPO, to be held Oct. 24-26 in Palm Desert, Calif.

Indeed, expectations were high for the event. Last year, 650 senior-level executives from the industry attended the EXPO in Orlando, Fla., and 20 GPOs and IDNs manned exhibit booths at the Purchasing Pavilion, HIGPA’s reverse trade show.

This year, IDNs will participate to a greater extent in the Purchasing Pavilion, says Betz, and the exhibits themselves will be larger, providing more space for business to be conducted.

As it did last year, EXPO will feature an industry-hosted member reception on Sunday, Oct. 23, to increase members’ business-building opportunities. The 2005 EXPO Golf Classic will be held from 8 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 24. After the HIGPA Annual Meeting (for members only) on Monday afternoon, the doors will open for an orientation session for first-timers, followed by a welcome reception and opening dinner for all attendees.

Focus on education
In addition to networking opportunities, the HIGPA Expo is all about education, says Betz. This year’s lineup is stronger than ever, beginning with Opening Dinner speaker Ian Morrison, Ph.D., founding partner, Strategic Health Perspectives, Menlo Park, Calif. Morrison, author of Healthcare in the New Millennium: Vision, Values and Leadership (Jossey-Bass, 2002), will discuss long-term forecasting and planning for healthcare organizations.

Other education highlights include:

  • Carol Kelly, head of policy for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, will examine healthcare issues from the federal perspective.
  • Mary Grealy, president, Healthcare Leadership Council, will look at uncompensated healthcare and tax-exempt status for not-for-profit hospitals. (“This is a huge issue,” says Betz. “It will take up a lot of Congress’ time in the upcoming year, and it’s an even more pressing issue at the state level.”)
  • Allan Fine, director, Navigant Consulting, will examine the impact of external business influences on healthcare purchasing, including the rising cost of fuel and legislation that could affect the pricing of pharmaceuticals.
  • Peter Rankin, principal, CRA International; and Charles Nierlich, associate attorney, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, will talk about the bundling of products in healthcare contracting, with an emphasis on what is allowable and what is not.
  • Panels will be convened to discuss the future of pharmaceutical and medical-surgical distribution, including new models of distribution.
  • Officers of the Coalition for Healthcare eStandards (CHeS) will give an update on that organization’s efforts to establish data standards for the supply chain, including the Global Locator Number.
  • An update on the Healthcare Group Purchasing Industry Initiative. The Initiative (www.healthcaregpoii.com) is a voluntary association of healthcare GPOs created in 2005 to encourage and sustain the best ethical and business conduct practices in the group purchasing industry. Its founding members are Amerinet, Broadlane, Child Health Corporation of America, Consorta, GNYHA Ventures Inc., HealthTrust Purchasing Group, MedAssets, Novation and Premier Inc.
  • Betz will give his annual “Word from Washington,” a look at how activity in the nation’s capital could affect healthcare organizations.

The event will adjourn at noon on Wednesday, Oct. 26. For more information on EXPO, visit HIGPA’s Web site at www.higpa.org.

Facing Change, HIGPA Moves Ahead

As the Health Industry Group Purchasing Association made final plans for its 10th Annual International EXPO, the association and industry at large were both contemplating some big changes ahead.

Legislation on the horizon?
At press time, the Antitrust Subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee was deciding whether to hold further hearings on group purchasing in October. The last time the Subcommittee held such hearings was Sept. 14, 2004. Two weeks later, Sens. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) and Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), the Subcommittee’s ranking member and chairman, respectively, introduced the Medical Device Competition Act. The legislation would have provided federal oversight of group purchasing organizations, but it died when the 108th Congress adjourned in November 2004. Some in the industry – including HIGPA President and CEO Robert Betz – fully expected new legislation to be introduced. “The possibility of legislation is, in my opinion, imminent,” says Betz. “Senators Kohl and DeWine have clearly indicated to the industry and members of Congress that they are not satisfied yet with efforts by the group purchasing industry.” If new legislation resembles the Medical Device Competition Act, “it is the opinion and policy of the [HIGPA] board that it will not be in the best interests of patients, and the industry will work to oppose it.”

Changes for HIGPA
Meanwhile, HIGPA’s board of directors was mulling some big changes of its own – nothing less than reconfiguring the organization to separate its buy-side members (GPOs and IDNs) from industry members (manufacturers and distributors).

“The main changes [would] involve creating an advocacy that is GPO-centric, unambiguously representing the interests of the group purchasing organizations; and creating another component É to represent the needs of other components of the supply chain,” says Al LoBiondo, HIGPA chair and senior vice president of purchasing for the Greater New York Hospital Association, New York, N.Y.

The rub is this: HIGPA comprises approximately 30 purchasing organizations (e.g., GPOs and IDNs), but it has 115 trading partners. That tends to raise red flags in the halls of Congress and elsewhere, where objections to GPOs’ alleged conflicts of interest have repeatedly been raised.

“[Our intent] is to create an organization that is unambiguous in terms of its representation and advocacy, which could speak for the GPOs and the buyer side of the supply chain, but which also has something of high value to the other elements,” says LoBiondo.

Late last winter, the HIGPA board of directors held a retreat and planning session, during which they decided that some “substantive change was required in terms of the way the organization was configured, both from a governance and from an organizational structural standpoint,” he says. The board hoped to have a plan in place by the EXPO in October.

Despite the uncertainties, however, one thing seemed clear: The organization remains committed to expanding the buyer side of its membership, particularly from the ranks of the nation’s integrated delivery networks. In November 2004, HIGPA members elected two IDN executives as members of its board – Lynn Britton of ROI /Mercy and Bruce Hanks of Intermountain Health Care.

New leadership
While grappling with its new structure, the HIGPA board this summer elected to discontinue its management agreement with Robert Betz Associates, a health policy consulting firm in Alexandria, Va., effective Dec. 31. Betz has served as HIGPA’s president and CEO since the organization was founded in 1990.

Despite the decision to terminate its contract with Robert Betz Associates, HIGPA “invited conversation” with Betz about a continuing role with the organization, says LoBiondo.

Says Betz, “Over the past 15 years, there hasn’t been a piece of legislation enacted and no regulation adverse to the industry, and all the groups are thriving by most measures. We are still getting world-class products at great pricing for healthcare providers. So I don’t think that’s a bad way to come to the end of a contractual performance.” Betz adds that he and his firm are ready to assist HIGPA beyond the end of the year, if needed.