Street Talk

Street Talk: Hospital ratings — something’s better than nothing

Diving in.

August 23, 2013
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Rick Snyder diving with ships
One tough nerd. Relentless positive action includes the depths of Michigan’s surrounding Great Lakes, a point Gov. Rick Snyder dove to prove last Tuesday. Snyder is a certified diver, and that has statewide diving enthusiasts pretty excited. They point out Michigan has more land mass underwater than topside, and politicians who have never left the beach are making regulatory decisions with no knowledge or understanding of what is below the surface.

Priority Health held a media event last week to promote its new contract with Healthcare Blue Book of Brentwood, Tenn., allowing it to begin publishing this fall localized health care costs and indications of the quality of service for more than 200 procedures at specific hospitals.

We are told the online publication for Priority Health patients will identify hospitals and doctors by name and indicate if their fees for specific procedures are high, average or low compared to other providers in that region. This will “save consumers thousands,” according to the Priority Health news release issued Aug. 22.

“We can’t continue to ask individuals to take on more responsibility for health care costs without giving them the resources they need to manage those dollars,” said Michael P. Freed, president/CEO of Priority Health, which is owned by Spectrum Health System. The Healthcare Blue Book uses Priority Health contracted fees to determine a “fair price” for health care services, according to PH.

Noting online ratings sites such as Angie’s List, PH said, “Health care service shopping can be as straightforward as many other online shopping experiences.”

PH also tells us “consumers can also review quality rankings and consumer reviews of hospitals and physicians through Healthgrades, an independent website used by more than 225 million consumers.”

On its website, Healthgrades says it evaluates hospitals “solely on clinical outcomes — risk adjusted mortality and in-hospital complications.”

“Our analysis is based on approximately 40 million Medicare discharges for the most recent three-year time period available.”

The same information is available to the general public on the government’s Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services website: CMS.gov.

We asked Lody Zwarensteyn his opinion on Healthgrades.com. As president of the nonprofit Alliance for Health in Grand Rapids, his career has focused on monitoring health care costs and quality in the region. “Rating services have a value, some more than others, and everyone, I’m sure, tries to be as valid as they can be,” Zwarensteyn said.

He added, however, that “suspicions come up” about the use of rating services. “Obviously, people tend to use those that make themselves or their affiliates look good, and tend to gloss over those that don’t. And that’s where there’s always some suspicion,” he said.

Some health care organizations and professionals even criticize the government’s data on Medicare patients, he said, by pointing out “it’s only Medicare” — and the government obviously tries to keep a lid on what it will pay hospitals and physicians on behalf of its Medicare patients.

“Well, Medicare is pretty pervasive,” said Zwarensteyn.

Other critics, he noted, may say the CMS Medicare data online is not actual patient information.

“But you’ve got to use something, until we get to an accepted standard for measurement that’s universal. But we’re not at that point yet,” said Zwarensteyn.

“Other than that, you’re left with (hospitals’) billboards saying, ‘We’re number one.’ And you say, ‘What’s that mean? Number one for what?’”

The Business Journal asked if hospitals listed by Healthgrades pay a fee to be listed. “The answer is no,” replied Jacey Dobbel, director of corporate marketing at Healthgrades.com.

We asked how the company generated revenue.

She replied, “Hospitals who achieve a quality distinction can choose to expand the promotion of their achievement beyond our free website and reports and pay a licensing fee which allows a hospital to further promote their achievement in various marketing campaigns.”

There is advertising on Healthgrades.com, too, ranging from Spearmint gum to permanent birth control to a source for a HIPPA-compliant medical marijuana card.

The list of “23 Top-Performing Hospitals” in West Michigan, showed Bronson Methodist in Kalamazoo topping the list. Next was Spectrum Health – Blodgett, but apparently all the hospitals are on the list, including all the big names and all the little names, too.

Properties find owners

Although Kent County Treasurer Ken Parrish didn’t expect a large turnout for last week’s public auction of tax-foreclosed properties because only 70 were being offered, he said he was pleased with the 180-or-so who showed.

Vets Title is a local service-disabled, veteran-owned small business and was the only firm that offered title insurance to the winning bidders at the sale held at DeVos Place. Two others do the same, but both are out-of-town and weren’t on hand.

Company Vice President Thomas Cronkright II told the crowd that if anyone planned to invest in a property they bought or intended to flip it in the near future, they needed title insurance. He said no one would get financing or be able to sell a property without it. Cronkright said his firm had cleared the title on 18 of the properties for sale.

Vets Title President Gregory Fones told the Business Journal not everyone who picks up a property at the sale buys the insurance. He said these folks usually buy an occupied rental property and have no intention of investing in the house or selling it, so title insurance isn’t needed. They don’t pay the taxes either and let the property go back into foreclosure after collecting three years of rent.

That is one reason Grand Rapids sold 163 tax-foreclosed properties to the Kent County Land Bank Authority in July. The city felt it had a better chance of getting the residences back on the tax roll with the land bank.

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