Granholm Ties Lifestyle To Economy

March 5, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — In preaching the merits of a healthy lifestyle, Gov. Jennifer Granholm ties the rising cost of health care to the state’s economic health.

And as long as Michigan remains at or near the top for incidence rates of chronic diseases, the state is at a competitive disadvantage economically, Granholm said. Higher disease rates means higher health-care costs, making Michigan a more expensive place to do business at a time when it’s bleeding manufacturing jobs to cheap labor markets overseas.

Michigan can help its business environment in part by promoting healthier lifestyles and reducing behaviors that contribute to rising health-care costs, Granholm said.

“There is a clear link between having a healthy state and having a state that has a vibrant economy,” Granholm said during a Feb. 27 forum with members of the Alliance for Health in Grand Rapids. “Health care is a very important component as to why people come here and why jobs come here.”

Granholm’s participation in the forum came a day after a new study from the state provided further linkage to the role unhealthy lifestyles play in rising health-care costs, an issue that tops the list of concerns of many business groups.

The study, conducted by the Ann Arbor-based research firm Altarum on behalf of the Michigan Economic Development Corp., concluded that overweight and obese persons could expect to incur $1,500 in additional medical costs annually because of health problems associated with their conditions.

The study found that Michigan, when compared to 17 benchmark manufacturing states, has the highest rates of death from coronary heart disease, ranks second for obesity and diabetes, and ranks sixth for smoking.

Win Irwin, president of Irwin Seating Co. in Grand Rapids and treasurer for Alliance for Health, welcomed the heightened awareness the governor is trying to generate on how personal lifestyles and behaviors affect health-care costs.

“We as a country need to realize that the costs of health care are in our own hands,” Irwin said. “The cost of heath care is not for someone else to take care of.”

The MEDC commissioned the Altarum study as part of a broader effort to gauge the link between health-care costs and the state’s economic condition. The state will use the results of the broader analysis to develop strategies to begin attacking the escalating costs of health care.

“We want to get people to make wise choices about heath care and about their lifestyle as well,” Granholm said.

The MEDC study builds on the findings of previous analyses linking behavior and health-care costs.

In Michigan, the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness, Health and Sports last May reported the results of a separate analysis that estimated the cost of physical inactivity by state residents at $8.9 billion annually. Under current trends, that cost will rise 42 percent to $12.65 billion by 2007. Costs include direct and indirect medical care, worker’s compensation and lost productivity in the workplace.

Nationally, medical expenditures related to obesity and being overweight are as high as $93 billion, or 9.1 percent of all health-care expenses in the United States — a figure that now rivals the cost of smoking, according to researchers whose findings were published in the May 2003 issue of Health Affairs, a national health-care journal.

In beginning to address the problem, Michigan’s first-ever surgeon general, Dr. Kimberlydawn Wisdom, will focus on four key problem areas during 2004: physical activity, obesity, smoking and teen pregnancy, Granholm said.

David Hollister, director of the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth, hopes the study will spur community-based initiatives to encourage walking and weight reduction and to help smokers quit. Such initiatives can “pay off in a big way by sending a positive signal to potential employers,” he said.

“Communities need to understand that companies may take one look at a locality with less than favorable health statistics and be scared off by the potential impact on their bottom line,” Hollister said. “Physical health and economic health go hand in hand.”

During her appearance at the Alliance for Health forum, Granholm also touted her proposal to raise the state’s cigarette tax by 75 cents a pack to help plug a projected $1.3 billion deficit in the state’s 2004-2005 budget and fund anti-smoking initiatives. She proposes to put $30 million of the $295 million the tax increase would generate toward smoking cessation, and the remaining $265 million to help the state’s Medicaid program.    

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