What healthcare reform means to the ASC CEO running for Congress

Healthcare reform is key to the platform of Austin Cheng, CEO of New York City-based Gramercy Surgery Center and candidate to represent New York's 3rd Congressional District.

Mr. Cheng joined Becker's to discuss what healthcare reform means to him.

Note: This response has been lightly edited for length and clarity. 

Question: Can you talk a little bit about what healthcare reform looks like to you?

Austin Cheng: I have an interesting view of healthcare: I came back to New York to take over the family business, the Gramercy Surgery Center, after my mother passed away. I was previously an attorney on active duty with the Army, and I took over Gramercy in late 2019. My mother unfortunately had cancer, and I had about five or six months there before she passed away. I buried her in early March, and then the week after was when COVID-19 hit — I was suddenly put into this position where I was running this healthcare company.

I understood healthcare from the point of view of healthcare as a business, but I was also in charge of almost 100 folks, and so I was also a large purchaser of healthcare in the sense that our company would go on the market and try to get the best benefits that we could for our team. So I see healthcare from both the consumer and provider side. 

It's really interesting from the consumer side, because there are a few things that you want when you're consuming a service or a product, and one of those things is pricing transparency. You want to be able to know what you're paying for and how much you are paying for that service you are receiving. And secondly, as a consumer, you really want to be able to have access. You really want to be able to know that if you are purchasing a healthcare service, that plan is able to provide you multiple access points across wherever you live. Healthcare reform from a consumer standpoint really has to do with transparency and pricing and also ensuring that there's as much access as possible.

Additionally, when you think of large purchasers of healthcare, these are not necessarily just the patients, but there's another player at the table, which is the large-scale employers that are paying for large portions of healthcare, whether that be a union or a municipality like New York City employees. So in driving the cost of care down, which is what Gramercy has been able to do for certain employers, we're able to put money back into the pocket of those employers.

We've been able to do this with the hotel trades union at Gramercy. We started a program that's helped them save costs with surgical care and do it in a way where the outcomes are the same if not better than what they would have been at the hospitals. And their members are happy because they've been provided with a dedicated surgeon at one of the city's leading independent surgery centers. 

There are two other points that we need to tackle for healthcare reform; one big one is the cost of healthcare. Healthcare costs continue to rise, and that's really concerning if you want to be able to make sure that the system that you have is sustainable. If the cost of healthcare is growing astronomically each year, then the system is not sustainable. and I think that the surgery centers are positioned very well to help. They keep the cost of healthcare down and make sure that we are providing a more cost-effective level of care without sacrificing quality. 

The last point I would say is that I really think we need to focus on our providers, specifically the number of providers and how we train our providers. We're at a point now where providers are choosing to leave the practice of medicine in record numbers. I think healthcare reform also would have to take into account the way that we treat our providers and the way that we train them and the way that we staff up our health systems.

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