Legislators Should Streamline Health

October 6, 2003
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Much ado has been made this week of the state and regional unemployment rate, though one might suspect it has as much to do with the broadcast ratings period. The August rate fell more than a full percentage point from the July high of 8.4, which included seasonal workers. Second, the majority of manufacturers in Kent County have, since August, indicated that they plan no further reductions and that work has increased, according to The Right Place Inc.

The greatest "stressor" on employers — in every classification — is the enormous burden of health care benefits, now estimated to be as much as 15 percent to 17 percent of Gross Domestic Product.

While Lansing and Washington bureaucrats take no blame for the budget "necessity" of further cuts in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement in "these strenuous" times, compare their "pain" to that of an individual whose benefit reductions have just cut them off a real life line, especially when it is bureaucratic spending that must be taken off taxpayer life support.

Grand Rapids Business Journal reported in the Sept. 22, 2003, issue on Spectrum Health's $23.9 million loss in services rendered to Medicaid patients and another $10.5 million loss for Medicare patients. Spectrum Chief Financial Officer Mike Freed told state legislators, "I have to make the losses up somewhere else and I only have one place to get it, and that's the business community."

Cost shifting to the business community is certainly not going to bring the unemployed back to work. The additional assault on the bottom line for business further extends the timeline for an economic recovery. Freed is but the messenger of bad news; legislators have the ability to act on that news, and they don't have to work too hard.

The Business Journal reports this week on the specific cost-savings recommendations from the Partnership for Michigan's Health. That which should have first priority is elimination of the pathetic duplication of "service" administration not only between Medicare and Medicaid forms and requirements, but especially among state departments: migrant services, Native American services, community health centers, all different public health streams that can certainly operate as one stream of service. Such organization eliminates fragmentation of service and offices for each, and every one creates efficiencies in forms and eliminates the duplicated work of state employees.

The biggest winner in streamlining administration is the physician who is currently paying between 25 percent and 30 percent of "health care costs" just to hire individuals to fill out paperwork. That one-quarter to one-third of "spending" on health care has nothing to do with the treatment of patients is an absolute and pathetic situation when Michigan residents cannot get a tooth pulled.

Once again, government "help" proves to be one of the single biggest obstacles to getting something done — like actually delivering health care to a patient. State legislators must immediately address how they will streamline the "system" to get dollars to patient care rather than administrators shuffling duplicate papers.

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