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MGMA gathering lacks spot for a witty soul

Dr. William Jessee wasn't missing from the Medical Group Management Association's recent annual conference in Las Vegas. But what was absent was an opportunity for him to say something provocative in front of a large audience.

Jessee, a former mainstay on Modern Healthcare's "most influential" lists, retired from the MGMA this year after serving as the organization's president and CEO for 12 years. He's now a senior vice president, senior adviser and webinar host for Integrated Healthcare Strategies consultants. He also will speak Nov. 15 about leveraging meaningful-use criteria to support patient-centered medical homes and accountable care organizations at a San Diego leadership summit on ACOs and medical homes.

Unfortunately, I won't be attending that meeting, but it's doubtful that I'd get to see what I really went there for: Jessee making provocative statements that were met with complete silence.

In 2008, Jessee took presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama to task for talking a lot about healthcare but not addressing the core of its problems: a system that rewards the wrong things and in which keeping people healthy is not the main focus. He then declared that one of the principles reform must include is that "healthcare is a basic human right."

"In a progressive, caring and wealthy country, no one should have to choose between paying the rent or paying for health insurance," Jessee said to a silent audience. Later, he told me that the silence was hard to interpret because afterward several people came up to him to register their agreement. And, as MGMA Vice President of Innovation and Research David Gans quipped, at least no one booed.

In 2009, Jessee took on insurance companies in his keynote.

"Everyone should be able to purchase affordable insurance—regardless of their health status," Jessee said. "So guaranteed issue is essential. Excluding coverage for pre-existing conditions is simply unfair. And making windfall profits from such an essential commodity as health insurance is immoral—health insurance must be made affordable to the average American."

Again, this remark was met with silence, though later in the conference, I did see a woman come up to Jessee and tell him how much she appreciated what he said.

Last year, however, in his final conference as MGMA leader, Jessee's most provocative comments were in the realm of healthcare acronym jokes which were not only well received, but could be heard being repeated by others.

While answering a question on consolidation and integration, Jessee noted that "the future of healthcare is accountable care," and then said that "ACO" stands for "any consultant's opportunity."

When a discussion turned to concerns that providers will be held accountable for the health of patients who don't take responsibility for their own well-being, Jessee joked that these patients already have their own acronym: HONDA, which stands for "hypertensive, obese, noncompliant diabetic alcoholics."

It'll be interesting to see what direction MGMA's new leader, Dr. Susan Turney, takes next year.

Follow Andis Robeznieks on Twitter: @MHARobeznieks.