Economic Development, Health Care, and Higher Education

Health care leaders focus on healthy lifestyles in 2016 forecast

January 15, 2016
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Decreasing chronic illness will be one of the most important avenues to decreasing future health care costs, according to health care leaders who participated in Grand Valley State University’s ninth annual West Michigan Healthcare Economic Forecast.

The event, which was held at GVSU’s Eberhard Center earlier this month, brought together two panels to talk about trends in West Michigan health care.

The first panel consisted of GVSU professors of economics Kevin Callison and Leslie Muller, who recently released the report, “Health Check: Analyzing Trends in West Michigan 2016.”

The second panel consisted of Jim Green, executive director of human resources for Lacks Enterprises; Jay LaBine, chief medical officer, Priority Health; Nick Lyon, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services; and Thomas Simmer, senior vice president and chief medical officer, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

All of the panelists noted the problem of chronic illness in their discussion of economic trends in health care.

Callison discussed the intersection of age and chronic illness in his remarks.

“The proportion of the population age 65 and older is growing,” Callison said. “That group uses the most health care resources and highest expenditures.”

He noted a lot of those expenditures are related to chronic illness management.

While West Michigan has made some gains in the areas of smoking cessation and decreasing heavy drinking and binge drinking, overweight and obesity rates are not budging. These are all considered risk factors that contribute to unhealthy outcomes.

Callision said the proportion of the total population that is overweight or obese accounts for two-thirds of the population nationally. He said those numbers are reflected similarly in West Michigan.

The Health Check report also shows physical activity is not improving, which is another risk factor that contributes to unhealthy outcomes.

The report shows since 2012, the percentage of West Michigan’s population reporting no leisure-time physical activity has increased from 20.6 percent to 24.3 percent.

Some of the chronic diseases that can result from the risk factors Callison discussed include diabetes, kidney disease, heart disease, asthma and depression.

To put it in perspective, LaBine said chronic disease accounts for “greater than 75 percent of Priority Health’s spend.” He said that percentage is similar to national numbers.

“Chronic disease is a massive challenge,” he said.

LaBine said the number of patients in the 90-100 age range is projected to quadruple in the next two decades, and a lot of those patients will utilize services related to chronic illnesses.

He stressed the importance of attacking chronic illness as an avenue to lowering per capita costs while maintaining a high level of care.

He also said changes in delivery related to chronic illnesses should be considered.

“Why do we have so much chronic care in acute care hospitals?” he asked.

He said Priority Health would be focusing on moving toward more proactive care.

Lyon also emphasized the need to focus on decreasing chronic illness to combat health care costs.

Much of what is spent on health care is related to preventable conditions, Lyon said, calling them “winnable battles.”

He seemed optimistic that chronic illness could be reduced and emphasized the importance of healthy behaviors and physical fitness in achieving change.

Lacks Enterprises could serve as a model for how businesses can participate in the reduction of health care costs related to chronic illnesses.

Green spoke about the health care transition that has taken place at the company since 2007, which includes the implementation of a rigorous wellness program, first as a pilot program in 2009 and then established companywide in 2010.

While employees weren’t initially excited about the program, Green said today it’s well received. He said employees who have committed to the program have seen results.

The program allows employees to earn points and rewards for their health. Each year they complete one of two health assessments, and participate in awareness, action and community/social activities that promote healthy lifestyles.

Lacks also provides employees with onsite clinicians so they don’t have to choose between working and going to the doctor.

The program extends to employees’ spouses and children.

Green said this year Lacks would focus on increasing involvement by spouses and children in its wellness program and health care services because they play a significant factor in the company’s health care costs.

Lacks is a good example of the need for a communitywide focus on reducing health care costs through improving people’s health that other panelists mentioned.

Specifically, LaBine talked about the role social organizations can and should play. He said it’s easy to look at doctors and hospitals for solutions, but social determinants play a big part in people’s overall health and, therefore, organizations that provide social services to vulnerable populations should play a role in solving the problem.

“The overly high focus on the health care system is looking at the most expensive way to solve the problem,” he said.

LaBine said social options are less expensive and often better interventions.

His message reflected the overall message of the day, which was that, to decrease health care costs, a reduction in chronic illness is a must, and it will involve the work of every stakeholder to achieve. Otherwise, expect to see health care costs continue to rise.

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