Experts confront problem of escalating health care costs at symposium

PRINCETON – The escalating costs of health care for patients and those who treat them came into focus today at a conference here.

Medical experts at the conference, which was sponsored by Horizon Healthcare Innovations, the Medical Society of New Jersey and the NJ Hospital Association,   confronted the challenges of improving health care delivery while controlling costs, which have skyrocketed in recent years.

Dr. Elliot S. Fisher of Dartmouth Institute said the $5,400 income increase the average worker would have seen over the past decade has largely been eclipsed by health care costs that increased well above the inflation rate.

“Average take-home pay has been completely flat,” he said. 

Healthcare’s main stakeholders – physicians, hospitals, insurance companies – have worked in “silos” and need to work more collaboratively, he said.

One of the biggest public health threats – and the root cause of many health problems – is obesity.

In 1990, none of the states had an obesity rate greater than 15 percent. Twenty years later, all the states have an obesity rate at least that high. 

The large health care costs are undermining the government’s fiscal house and unless structural changes are made, the foundation will continue to crumble. Massachusetts’ health care costs, for example, increased by $3.4 billion over the past 10 years, while public education spending languished, reduced by about $1 billion.

“We obviously can’t afford it,” he said about the growing health care costs most state and federal governments are seeing. “They are the major causes of our future deficits.”

A study done by Fisher’s institute that followed 1 million Medicare patients over a five-year period found little to no difference between the highest spending regions and the lowest-spending areas on health care.

He stressed the need for better patient data, better aims, and more  face-to-face time with primary care doctors. He was especially praiseworthy of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital as a model hospital 

Another way is to find less-costly but more effective means of caring for patients with chronic illnesses, other than extended hospital stays. Experts confront problem of escalating health care costs at symposium