Editorial

Escalation of Kent County health care costs must be contained by business leaders

February 2, 2018
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The 2018 Health Check, analyzing health trends and costs in Kent, Ottawa, Muskegon and Allegan counties, was announced by Grand Valley State University researchers against a backdrop of an opioid crisis, a record-setting (deadly) flu outbreak, hepatitis outbreak and a PFAS chemical contamination of water and ground in northern Kent County. The report is primarily based on 2017 research and not inclusive of these recent impacts, but the events of late 2017 and early 2018 will be impactful during research this year. A great deal of that impact falls on the leaders of Kent County and the county health department — and begs a report unique to the circumstance as well as financial considerations and expenses. Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. estimated Feb. 2 that national costs for the flu epidemic alone could result in as much as $15 billion just in lost productivity.

The historic data needs to be documented for insights beyond 2018 and to the health reports a decade from now. Employers in the KOMA counties won’t be encouraged by various aspects of the current report: While employers continue to provide and pay health care benefit choice plans, and health care wages remain below those of the Detroit region, the report shows growth in hospital expenses per admission has been “substantial” over the past decade. The report shows hospital charges per admission “are significantly higher than the national average and approximately $3,000 greater per admission” in Grand Rapids compared to Detroit, where wages and patient numbers are much higher.

The annual health report is rich in statistical information, with participation from Spectrum Health, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Blue Care Network, Priority Health, GVSU Johnson Center for Philanthropy and The Employers Association of West Michigan.

It is particularly interesting to circle those suburban areas of West Michigan where intense building of health care “outpatient” units have been built in rapid succession. Those same areas, if overlaid, show three consecutive years of significant cost increases.

“The areas north and southwest of Grand Rapids experience the highest average annual expenditures for each condition analyzed.” The report also noted two consecutive years of increases in Grand Rapids-specific ZIP codes. The price difference: $16,051 to $23,223 in spending, compared to $30,446 to $42,153 (on the north end of Kent, for instance).

The report notes this is the fourth consecutive year of higher spending (for instance, coronary artery disease or diabetes) in KOMA compared to the Detroit region. Higher (CAD) spending on the west side of the state would appear to indicate higher prices for cardiac care, greater use of medical services/technologies or a more severely ill population. It’s the price employers and employees pay.

It is past time for an employer coalition to put collective shoulder to oversight of hospital costs, most especially including duplicate facilities, resulting in higher charges for fewer users from one ZIP code to another. To ignore it is to be complicit in the continued escalation of health care costs.

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