“Consumers actually matter, and we need to fix the health care system.” With those words, Michael B. McAllister, president and CEO of Humana, Louisville, Ky., kicked off a panel discussion here at the annual convention of the National Association of Health Underwriters.

During the panel, three CEOs vetted frank viewpoints on the future of health care in the United States.

McAllister repeatedly advocated for changes in the areas of costs, consumers, quality, alignment with transparency, and guidance (for consumers). “Employers have to step up to the plate,” he added, explaining that the health care payers can’t make the needed changes themselves.

“I believe, absolutely, that we have to go to consumer-driven health plans,” McAllister asserted. He said it is a “myth” that people can’t make decisions for themselves under such plans. If they have price and quality information at the time they are making the decision and a structure supporting that, they will “find a way to get the right value.”

Dr. Emily Dix, director of product development for American Healthways, Tupelo, Miss., said health care products need a holistic perspective and should help people to make behavioral changes that improve their health. For example, Dix suggested that health information be delivered through all available technologies–not just online but also via cell phones, satellite television and handheld devices.

For health savings accounts to be effective, people need to know how to integrate good health care information. Employers can help, too, she said, for instance, by offering smoking cessation and walking programs at lunchtime.

Donald G. Hamm Jr., president and CEO of Assurant Health, Milwaukee, Wis., termed the current era as a “revolution” in delivery of health care. The managed care world is passing and change is in the air, he said. “The system is broke, complex and too expensive, and there is a tremendous variation in quality.”

A strong advocate of HSAs, Hamm contended the products are the front line of protecting private health care in this country today. Over three million people have HSAs today, he added, and by 2010, many estimates predict that 40% of Americans will have them.