Highmark chief discusses health care transformation

A health insurance company CEO addressed the state Chamber of Commerce’s business summit on Thursday at The Greenbrier, where he talked about the need to transform health care but also the uncertainty around changes to federal health-care law.

William Winkenwerder, Jr., the president and CEO of Highmark, said health-care costs are unsustainable. Additionally, he added that 75 percent of health-care costs incurred are preventable if people make healthy lifestyle choices.

Speaking about the federal health-care law, and the proposed state exchanges, he said, “We don’t know what they’ll look like or how they’ll work. Some of us are concerned things aren’t going to be ready.”

On federal health-care reform in general he said it “will improve access [to health care] but it adds considerable costs.”

Winkenwerder said one of the biggest challenges of the federal law would be getting young adults to sign up for health-care exchanges instead of just accepting a $95 tax penalty.

He also called for transparency in health-care costs. Winkenwerder asked the crowd how many knew how much a tank of gasoline costs, and many raised their hands. However, when he asked how many in the crowd knew the price of a brain CT scan or a simple checkup at the doctors’ office, only a few raised their hands.

“If someone else is paying for it, we have no idea how much it costs,” Winkenwerder said. “We need to get that information out to people.”

Winkenwerder said he believes it will be at least 2020 until we see exactly how the federal health-care reform unfolds.

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