Jul 28, 2014

COMMENTARY: We Need To Focus On Creating Healthier Communities

The cost of health insurance isn't our only problem, it's our poor health that is the problem.

COMMENTARY: We Need To Focus On Creating Healthier Communities

My original headline for this commentary was “Stop Trying to Create Jobs And Focus On Creating Consumers,” but I decided against it.

The reason, consumers are integral to the supply and demand paradigm, which is where we have decided to focus our resources. But our focus should be on creating healthier communities.

Rising insurance costs are a dominant theme we hear about from federal, state, county and local governmental bodies.  But we don’t have an insurance cost problem. We have health problems, getting along with each other problems, and cost shifting problems. And we’re not really talking about those issues, and this is surprising to me since insurance costs, and fire and police services are a substantial part of our tax bill.

So we water down the coverage, increase deductibles, ask employees to pay higher premiums and talk about giving employees the option to opt out of having health insurance and these may be the painful realities we need to focus on to balance our budgets – but we don’t talk about decreasing the need for healthcare and that's a missed opportunity.

So if we allow employees to opt out of taking insurance, what are the consequences of that? Sure, it may not cost taxpayers when they pay their tax bills, but what will it cost us when the person shows up to the emergency room and doesn’t pay their hospital bill? How often does that happen? What burden are we placing on the hospital and ourselves as health care consumers when costs aren’t covered? Are we making the problem worse?

And sure, we may not be able to afford these insurance rate hikes, but can we afford not to maintain our health and our health insurance?

Here's why I think this should be a concern. I noticed this story on the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about health insurance premiums going up. America's Health Insurance Plans issued a press release with the following talking points. Here are a few of the takeaways:

  • Prices for medical services continue to rise 
    • Recent data from the  S&P Healthcare Economic Composite found that “healthcare costs covered by commercial insurance increased by 7.73% over the year ending July 2011.” 
    • The annual  Milliman Medical Index (MMI) found that “between 2010 and 2011, the MMI increased by $1,319 or 7.3%.”  Moreover, the report noted that “even though hospital spending is only 48% of total healthcare spending, increases in facility spending (inpatient and outpatient combined) account for over 60% of this year’s total increase in cost of healthcare.”
    • PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Health Research Institute’s “ Behind the Numbers: Medical Cost Trends for 2012”, which examines the medical cost trends for employers in 2012, found that “medical cost trend is expected to increase from 8% in 2011 to 8.5% in 2012.”

We also need to realize that as the state “freezes” enrollment into Badgercare we’ll have more people who don’t have health insurance. So why should we care about that if we’re not footing the bill? Or are we really footing the bill in increased premiums?

We also need to realize the impact of that on our fire departments; the impact of being unemployed on our mental health, and that too has a profound impact on our police departments and our fire departments. We need to look at our calls for service, understand our community’s issues and confront them.

And when I say we, I don’t just mean our political leaders, I mean us. We all play a role in fixing these problems – as taxpayers, police officers, firefighters, political leaders, citizens, health care providers, and health care consumers. So we should be talking to our public health leaders, understanding the issues, the cost, and the benefits of having a healthy community.

When we own our part in fixing these problems we’ll decrease the need for having these services and if we really want our tax bills to decrease, we should be having these conversations. Because at the end of the day if all we’re doing is “decreasing costs,” we’re just shifting the problem onto someone else to pay.



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