Affordable health care draws attention of physicians, other experts

TRENTON  – The problem of providing affordable health care in New Jersey in the face of budget cuts and rising costs was the focus of a seminar here Tuesday morning.

The panel, whose participants included state Sen. Joe Vitale, (D-19), Woodbridge; and Department of Human Services Commissioner Jennifer Velez; as well as experts in the fields of medicine, law and insurance, confronted statistics such as these:

New Jersey ranked highest in the nation in 2007 in spending per capita on Medicare beneficiaries with severe chronic illness, $59,379, 28 percent higher than the national average;

The same Dartmouth Atlas survey found that the state ranked highest in terms of both inpatient and outpatient reimbursement during the last two years of a patient’s life;

In 2004, the last year for which state data is available, the state spent more than $50 billion on health care, $5,807 per person, according to the Council on State Public Affairs.

Velez, in delivering a keynote address, said that her department struggles on a daily basis to make sure they are “putting the person before the dollar.’’

Her department, faced with such issues as the pending closure of Vineland Developmental Center, the pending Medicaid waiver, and the shift to managed care, has recorded successes down through the years, including implementation of a no-smoking policy at the state’s five psychiatric hospitals that was considered controversial at the time but is now an accepted fact.

She said the department has worked to lay a foundation of affordable health care for low- and moderate-income residents.

A report accompanying the seminar, “When Being No. 1 Means We Have to Think Differently,’’ stated that that, among other things, New Jersey has many hospitals in poor financial condition, an oversupply of hospital beds, limited physician accountability for use of hospital resources, and limited transparency of prices of services.

According to one of the approximately 25 health care professionals interviewed for the report, the state is trying to deliver 21st century health care using a 1970s’ delivery system.

The report was prepared by Dr. Robert Hughes of Rutgers University’s Center for Health Policy and Laura Landy, president and CEO of the Fannie E. Rippel Foundation, which works toward improving health care outcomes and exploring new initiatives.

Hughes said the state does well in some statistical measurements such as non-clinical areas of income and education, but not so well in others such as access to prenatal care.

He said in terms of obesity, the state had a 10 percent rate 15 years ago but it now is at 24 percent.

New Jersey, he said has very high health care costs, “If not the highest in the country.”

Affordable health care draws attention of physicians, other experts