HIGPA Makeover

With changes in the works, HIGPA will have a new look in 2006 and beyond.

At press time, the Health Industry Group Purchasing Association (HIGPA) was moving forward with its plans to change association management firms and create a new, separate organization specifically for manufacturers and distributors.

HIGPA was working with SmithBucklin Corp. to craft an agreement that would make SmithBucklin HIGPA’s new association management firm. Based in Chicago, SmithBucklin provides association management services to approximately 185 associations. HIGPA let its agreement with Alexandria, Va.-based Robert Betz Associates lapse, effective Dec. 31, 2005. Betz had been president and CEO of HIGPA since the organization was founded in 1990.

“One of our concerns had been having a full-time CEO or executive director,” said Al LoBiondo, HIGPA chairman. (As president of Robert Betz Associates, a health policy consulting and lobbying firm, Betz himself had been unable to devote all his time to HIGPA.) “Whether we hire that person directly or through an association management firm is of less consequence.”

At the same time, HIGPA was working with Capitol Health Group, Washington, D.C., to provide advocacy and lobbying for its members on Capitol Hill. (Prior to Dec. 31, Robert Betz Associates had been providing both association management and advocacy services.) Capitol Health Group Chairman Michael Bromberg is vice chairman of the Federation of American Hospitals, for whom he served for 25 years as executive director. He is also a senior advisory board member of MedAssets, Alpharetta, Ga.

Separating church and state
Meanwhile, HIGPA reported receiving positive feedback from suppliers regarding its decision to create the Supply Chain Institute, an organization specifically for industry members, that is, manufacturers and distributors. By creating the Institute, HIGPA will clearly differentiate its GPO and IDN members from vendors.

“HIGPA had to have unambiguous representation for and by the buying side,” said LoBiondo. “The reason is, if you’re going to give testimony before the Senate, or intervene with the Government Accounting Office or Inspector General, you have to be clear in terms of who you’re representing. While the trading partners always deferred to the GPOs, there wasn’t the degree of clarity that we felt was necessary.”

LoBiondo expects the charter for the Supply Chain Institute to be ratified at HIGPA’s next annual meeting – the International EXPO – in October 2006. Between now and then, supplier members will be considered affiliate members of HIGPA. Next fall, they will become full members of the Institute.

When the transformation is complete, HIGPA’s buy-side members will fund the organization’s advocacy and public policy endeavors, while the Institute will focus on educational events (such as the HIGPA EXPO), networking events, independent research and the development of industry-wide standards.

“The key was separating [industry members] from the board, so that it’s clear, particularly on the advocacy side, that it is the GPO folks who are the governance of the organization and the public policy piece,” said Darrel Weatherford, COO of Consorta and chair-elect of HIGPA.

The year ahead
To give its members a greater voice on Capitol Hill, HIGPA intends to work more closely with its members who have representatives in Washington. “We really want to create a buyer-centric advocacy agenda that is expanded to IDNs and other buyers who could be similarly affected by the legislative and regulatory environment,” said LoBiondo.

The organization doesn’t expect the Senate Judiciary Committee to turn its attention back to the group purchasing industry until at least the latter part of the first quarter or the second quarter of 2006. “I think the Judiciary Committee has a very active agenda with judicial nominations and other issues,” said LoBiondo. “Even so, we don’t want to get caught flat-footed.”

In the meantime, HIGPA intends to become more engaged with the Healthcare Group Purchasing Initiative (www.healthcaregpoii.com), an independent organization created in 2005 to encourage and sustain ethical business practices in the GPO industry. Its founding members are Amerinet, Broadlane, Child Health Corporation of America, Consorta, Greater New York Hospital Association Ventures Inc., HealthTrust Purchasing Group, MedAssets, Novation and Premier.

“It will be a busy year, but we’re looking forward to taking the organization to the next level of value for its members,” said LoBiondo.

LoBiondo will serve as chairman until Dec. 31, 2006. Weatherford will then take over.