Heathcare Cost Checkup

The Value Proposition of the PA Health Care Cost Containment Council

By Joe Martin

Summer 2019 Catalyst

Many years ago, I was talking with the PA Health Care Cost Containment Council’s Interim Director at the time, Cliff Jones, about how best to communicate PHC4’s value. Cliff told me that he believed people wanted to know three things: first, is the work of high quality; second, if it is useful; and third, who cares about it? I often reflect back on that conversation.


On the first issue — is the work of high quality? The Council’s data has been widely published in esteemed journals and studies and widely reported in the popular media. To my knowledge, the integrity of the Council’s data and its analytics has never been challenged.


Secondly, is it useful (and who uses it?) Well, in addition to the more than half a million reports and studies that are downloaded each year from PHC4’s website, thousands of specially requested datasets have been provided to health care providers, organizations, academic researchers, consultants and other government agencies since PHC4’s inception. During 2018, many entities relied on PHC4 for accurate, reliable healthcare data. A full listing of 2018 special reports and requests for data (applicant & project description) is available online at https://www.pabulletin.com/secure/data/vol49/49-12/436.html.


And third, who are the leaders/organizations that care about it?  Since its inception in 1986, PHC4 has been supported by hundreds of individuals and organizations throughout Pennsylvania and the United States — a point reflected in the various statements of support you will find on the pages on our recently released Annual Report. Respected leaders such as the PA Chamber’s President and CEO Gene Barr; Capital Blue Cross Senior Vice President Todd Shamash; Hospital and Healthsystem Association of PA President and CEO Andy Carter; Thomas Jefferson College of Population Health Founding Dean, Dr. David Nash; Jewish Healthcare Foundation President and CEO, Karen Feinstein, Ph.D; University of Pennsylvania Director of the Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research Linda Aiken, Ph.D, RN; and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia pediatric heart surgeon, Dr. William Gaynor have all stood behind the Council’s mission and its continued efforts.


The bill to reauthorize PHC4 as an independent state agency carries House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, as its chief sponsor. PHC4 has many supporters in the state Senate. And, the Council has proven a valuable partner to Gov. Tom Wolf in his efforts to curb and eradicate the opioid epidemic that is such a threat to our quality of life, our economic well-being, our families and communities here in Pennsylvania.


I’d like to update you on several recently published PHC4 reports. First, a newly updated report on neonatal abstinence syndrome shows that the Pennsylvania hospitalization rate for 1,800 babies born addicted in 2017-18, while having leveled off in the most recent year, remains a serious and heart-breaking problem, with significant immediate and long term costs to society. 


Our latest Hospital Financial Report shows that while uncompensated care (costs that must be written off or shifted because of charity care or bad debt) continue to decline, the gap between financially successful hospitals and struggling ones continues to widen, especially in rural PA. To underscore the importance of rural hospitals, I recall that when Adelphia Communications folded several years ago, Charles Cole Memorial Hospital (now affiliated with UPMC Health System) immediately became the largest employer in Potter County.


Finally, a new PHC4 report on Pediatric and Congenital Heart Surgery showed that Pennsylvanians can take comfort in the high quality of care in the state’s children’s hospitals. This is especially heartening in light of a hard hitting New York Times investigative story about the serious problems in a number of childrens’ hospitals around the country.  Our Commonwealth’s hospitals, doctors and nurses deserve great credit for the excellent care they deliver.


One must have good data/information to make good decisions. Nowhere is that more true than in health care. PHC4 is very proud to be of value to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as it wrestles with the significant challenges facing our citizens.


Joe Martin is executive director of the PA Health Care Cost Containment Council.