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Health-care reform must be comprehensive

The current debate about reforming our health-care system often revolves around costs - not on value, which I define as healthy people living longer and enjoying life more.

As chief executive officer of Hoffman Construction, one of the largest employers in Oregon, and a participant in the Oregon Business Council health task force, I have come to the conclusion that individuals and businesses need to recommit to actively engaging in a healthier lifestyle and workplace.

I am unqualified to assess all of the proposals for health-care reform that are on the table. They all seem to have worthy attributes and potential benefits. But most of the proposals simply rearrange the cost distribution and presume that we can spend our way to better health.

In business, lousy financial results usually indicate poor processes, management and engagement, not the other way around. To get to better health care, we have to address the true causes of the current poor value.

Government policies can get us part of the way there. Policies can address, for example, the growing number of people and companies unwilling or unable to purchase insurance.

They can address the inequities in Medicare and Medicaid payments and their misalignment with the services people really need to get the best and most appropriate care.

The ultimate system needs to provide access for all and support for the neediest people and mandate that everybody who can actually participates in the system.

Health-care providers can be a supportive partner by providing information and tools for consumers.

Some of the business council's task force recommendations include provider programs such as secure, transportable medical records; comparative metrics for quality and service; and collaborative purchasing for smaller businesses and individuals who may not be able to currently get the same benefits large employers can obtain.

But the most important factor in getting the most value from our system is restoring our own commitment as individuals and companies to reduce unnecessary utilization and enhance our ability to make informed decisions on our own behalf.

At Hoffman, we initiated a comprehensive wellness program for our employees about three years ago.

We did not do this as a cost measure. I felt that a healthier, more productive work force was a worthwhile aim in its own right. We now have a commitment to our mutual well-being.

Our internal health-care program includes personal awareness of one's own health; information on and help dealing with risks proactively; and educational support for making informed choices about care and treatment.

The results have been dramatic in terms of fostering a sense of caring about each other and celebrating people's achievements in reducing risks and coping with treatment options.

Hoffman employees are losing weight, quitting smoking, monitoring blood pressure and diets, and holding all kinds of intracompany athletic events to help stay in shape. We have kept premium costs steady (while other companies have seen theirs rise) while adding coverage to our plan.

But to go further we need the tools and open information that the business council recommendations provide.

I have come to the conclusion that a centralized system, be it through the insurance world or the government, cannot compare with what individuals and companies that make healthy lifestyles a priority can accomplish if they have the right commitment and tools.

I hope that more companies choose to engage this as aggressively as we have and that whatever new policies are adopted, they do not hamper those of us who do take control of our health.

Wayne Drinkward is chief executive officer of Hoffman Construction, headquartered in Portland. More opinions on health-care reform can be found inside the 'Rethinking Portland' section inside today's paper.