No joke: A doctor, an insurance executive, and a CEO walk into a bar…

By Richard L. Brown, MD, MPH —

A doctor, insurance executive, and CEO walk into a bar in Wisconsin, where they encounter an assortment of patrons. Some are drinking and enjoying themselves with little to no downside. Some are at risk for problems but usually unaware. Others are struggling.

Wisconsin’s problems with alcohol are well documented. Whatever the risks and problems, chances are that most of those patrons were not offered evidence-based alcohol screening and intervention services the last time they visited their healthcare provider — even though alcohol screening ranks fourth in effectiveness of prevention services — ahead of screens for hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, and all kinds of cancer.

Behavioral screening and intervention addresses a host of behavioral issues besides alcohol — including smoking, drug use, and depression. Alcohol screening and intervention offers the highest return on investment — at 4:1 – so it’s often our focus when talking to health care professionals, insurers, and employers.

Which brings us back to the doctor, the insurance executive, and the CEO

If I could, I’d buy them each a beer and point out that they and their peers have the ability, if they would act in concert, to greatly improve the health of the people of Wisconsin and the productivity of the state. No one of them can do it alone.

CEOs of companies across the state need to make it clear they want these benefits in their insurance plans. Employers have tremendous power here, as they choose and pay for insurance plans. Fortunately, WIPHL already has the backing of employer groups, including the Business Health Care Group of Southeastern Wisconsin, The Alliance, and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce.

Insurers play their part by agreeing to reimburse for these services. This allows healthcare professionals to do the right thing and not sacrifice their business needs and profitability in the process. Again, WIPHL has the support of a number of payers who have already agreed to do so.

It’s up to the healthcare providers to deliver services. WIPHL benefits from the support of the Wisconsin Medical Society, Wisconsin Collaborative for Healthcare Quality, and many more in this area.

Is it more complicated than that? Sure. There are many details regarding how these services are delivered and which codes are currently available for billing and reimbursement.

But it’s also this simple: These are proven, evidence-based practices. If we can align demand, reimbursement, and service delivery, we will ALL benefit.

There’s no punch line to wrap it up, just my phone number and email address: (608) 263-9090. WIPHL is here to remove barriers and make these tremendous health benefits as easy to implement as possible. We provide free consultation, training, and support for healthcare professionals. We help employers and insurers as well. If you are in a position to move behavioral screening and intervention services forward in 2012, I’d like to talk with you.