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Forum highlights cost-saving measures for health care

By - Last modified: May 4, 2012 at 11:21 AM

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Solutions to bring down the cost of health care for employers and patients were discussed on Thursday at Capital BlueCross' Health Care Forum.

Held at the Hershey Lodge, the seminar featured keynote speaker T.R. Reid, a well-known reporter, author and correspondent for National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting Service.

Citing statistics, Reid said 22,000 people in the U.S. die of treated diseases annually and 800,000 people go bankrupt each year because of their medical costs.

"We could provide health care for everyone for a lot less, because other industrialized democracies provide health care for everyone at about half the cost," he said.

He referred to The Dartmouth Atlas of Good Health Care, a book providing geographic information on where health care is the most affordable in the country. In Miami, for example, a procedure generally costs three times as much as the same procedure in some areas of Colorado, Reid said.

"Spending three times as much does not buy better medical care – it buys more medical care," he said.

Based on the book and his research, he said, no one model exists to drive health care costs lower. However, if a community's health care providers and insurers can work like one system, even if the businesses retain their independence, it helps to eliminate variations in standards of care, he said. Doctors thinking about the cost of the care they're dictating also helps lower spending, he said.

"The closer you get to a universal coverage, the better you get at lowering cost," Reid said.

Susquehanna Township, Dauphin County-based Capital BlueCross also featured several local businessmen to comment on solutions they've found in helping combat health care spending.

Daniel Chirico, chief financial officer and treasurer of Lebanon County-based Farmers Pride Inc., which does business as Bell & Evans, described his company's on-site primary care clinic. A physician comes out twice a week to provide general care to employees, from diagnosing an illness to treating injuries, he said.

"We went into this with the goal of maintaining our offerings to our employees by taking a more proactive role in their care," he said.

The clinic has helped employees build relationships with a provider, and though the company's self-funded insurance plan has seen a slight rise in costs, it has been able to maintain the same copays and deductible for the past three years, he said.

Gregory Smolin, president, CEO and cofounder of AllBetterCare Urgent Care Center in Cumberland County, outlined his idea to place experienced emergency room physicians in outpatient settings, providing care for many of the would-be emergency room patients for a fraction of the cost.

Dr. David Emmert is president of Project Access Lancaster County, an organization that provides health care for people who can't afford health insurance and do not qualify for federally funded insurance.

The nonprofit connects volunteer physicians and other providers, hospital services, diagnostic services and pharmaceutical assistance for its patients. Last year, it provided $8.5 million in donated care. Project Access sees about 1,000 patients and has helped more than 700 people become healthy enough to get jobs or qualify for other insurance plans, he said.

Tom Croyle, president of the Lehigh Valley Business Coalition on Health Care, addressed the groups' initiatives to analyze hospital quality, work with health plan administrators and set up a data collaborative for the area.

Businesses can continue to work toward decreasing health care costs by staying aware of the different health care costs depending on where care is received, communicating the range of costs for care to employees, trying to integrate and connect health care businesses and supporting systems that are paid for cost containment and quality efforts, the panelists said.

"We don't have to wait for Washington to tell us how to bring down costs. People are doing that in local communities," Reid said.

Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@cpbj.com

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