By Richard Asinof
By her own admission, Dr. Kathleen C. Hittner, the new R.I. Health Insurance Commissioner, said that the former commissioner, Christopher F. Koller, left some very big shoes to fill.
In her new role, Hittner will be serving at a time when the health care landscape is changing rapidly, a challenge she said that she embraces.
Providence Business News asked Hittner to describe her goals and philosophy moving forward.
PBN: What do you see as the legacy of R.I. Health Insurance Commissioner Christopher F. Koller, and how will it influence your direction moving forward?
HITTNER: As the founding commissioner of the office, Commissioner Koller left some very big shoes to fill – literally and figuratively. Chris carved out a very special role for the office, one that is unique in the nation, in terms of guarding the public’s interest in regulating health insurance. His focus on affordability – and the opportunity for driving affordability through reform efforts – is one that will shape the work of the office.
I look forward to taking on the challenge. Health care is changing more quickly now that it has in a generation. The cost pressures on employers and on the government must be addressed quickly and the unique powers and duties of the health insurance commissioner are ideally suited to drive further reforms.
PBN: Given your background as a hospital president and CEO, what do you see as the challenges of implementing health care reform and creating health care that is more affordable and accessible, with better outcomes?
HITTNER: Health care is an incredibly complex sector and focusing on one aspect will not solve our problems. My career in and around hospitals has shown that the greater the level of coordination between all parts of the health care system – hospitals, physicians, community provider – the better outcomes we will see.
Rhode Islanders deserve and expect the highest quality of care and I will be focused on ensuring that quality of care remains available during these times of changes in the system. One of the best opportunities that we have is to build on the work of CSI-RI, creating patient-centered medical homes. This national model of primary care and collaboration will serve as a foundation for our system as it moves forward
PBN: What do you see as the benefits of greater transparency in hospital and provider contracts with health insurers?
HITTNER: There are two critical factors that demand greater transparency. The first is the move toward high deductible health plans that puts the patients and their families on the front line of choosing care options. Without timely and accurate pricing information, how can we expect Rhode Islanders to make the best decisions about their care?
We also need to add quality measures to the available information so that consumers can make a value-based decision on where they access care.
Secondly, the commendable efforts that are underway in our provider community to coordinate care and share in the savings achieved by that coordination demands effective pricing information. Care coordinating entities, including primary care providers, must have easy access to information in order to effectively counsel patients on their care choices.
PBN: What kind of outreach, if any, do you plan to conduct in meeting with stakeholders and community and business leaders?
HITTNER: As the people who pay a major portion of the health care in this state, businesses must be engaged in the discussion of the future of our health care system and the costs that the system generates.
I look forward to continuing the Health Insurance Advisory Council and the Small Business Task Force. The office will be working with small and large businesses alike to build the best health care system for our state. We have had a great engagement from small businesses around health insurance rates and I plan on continuing that effort.
Additionally, the Health Care Planning and Accountability Advisory Council that I co-chair with Secretary [Steven] Costantino will continue to bring health care sector representatives around the table to discuss and advise on critical issues in our health care system.
PBN: How will the HealthSourceRI, in your opinion, influence and change the marketplace for health insurance in Rhode Island?
HITTNER: HealthSourceRI is a tremendous opportunity to add more coordination and buying power to what has been a very uncoordinated market for individuals and small businesses.
The opportunity to drive changes in the offerings, including tiered networks and new payment methods, will create, as I see it, a tipping point in getting away from the old model of fee-for-service payments.
Add to this opportunity the ability for thousands of Rhode Islanders to have access to more affordable coverage and we have the recipe for successful health reform.
I am happy to join the team in the state to pushing these efforts forward and working with my new partners in government and with the authorities of the health insurance commissioner to build a strong, affordable and sustainable health care system for Rhode Island.