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GVSU study predicts increase in West Michigan health care costs

January 11, 2013
| By Pete Daly |
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A combination of factors — including increasing obesity and poverty, plus fewer young people and more older people — are predicted to add to the overall cost of health care in West Michigan, according to research presented at the fourth annual health care summit meeting at Grand Valley State University on Friday.

A report, “Health Check: Analyzing Trends in West Michigan 2013,” was compiled by GVSU’s Seidman College of Business professors Sonia Dalmia and Paul Isely, who focused on trends in Kent, Ottawa, Muskegon and Allegan counties.

The report's data reflect the job market, medical patents issued here, demographics, health care profiles and economics. The full report is online at GVSU's website

Dalmia said the statistics show there are more people over age 65 in West Michigan than the prime working ages of 35-44. There also are more people age 45 to 64 than people age 20 to 34. She said these two factors are significant, because an aging population has higher health care costs, and there are fewer workers to replace retirees.

Dalmia said the poverty rate in West Michigan has increased from 8 percent in 1999, to 14 percent in 2011.

Low-income individuals are said to have higher overall health care costs during their lifetimes, because of a lack of early disease-prevention measures, more frequent use of hospital emergency rooms, greater obesity and higher rates of diabetes.

The GVSU researchers found that risk factors including heavy drinking, smoking and inadequate physical activity also have increased in West Michigan. About 17 percent of the area’s population reports having five or more drinks at one time at least once in the previous month; that number is higher than survey results for Detroit and the U.S. in general.

Cancer rates in West Michigan are lower than other areas in Michigan and the U.S., and rates of diabetes are lower, but tracking closely with obesity. Researchers said people with asthma increased in West Michigan by 3 percent from 2004 to 2011.

Isely said the “low-cost individuals” in health care are men aged 30 to 39, who “don’t go to the doctor, probably even when we should.”

Isely said there are many issues regarding diabetes, which is the second highest health care cost driver after coronary artery disease. One has been an economic issue: Are the diabetic screening tests really worth the cost?

Isely said that in West Michigan, at least, statistics show that over the long-term “doing the preventive test is well worth the cost.”

The West Michigan Alliance for Health sponsored a panel presentation at the GVSU health care economic forecast for 2013, featuring executives from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, the Michigan Department of Community Health, Spectrum Health, the Michigan Health and Hospital Association and The Employers’ Association.

The GVSU Office of the Vice Provost for Health produced the 2013 health care summit, with the research report funded by grants from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Blue Care Network and Priority Health.

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