Curbing health-care costs should be top priority, speaker says

The chief medical officer of Propel Health told a Chamber of Medford/Jackson County gathering Monday the single most import thing that will affect communities during the next four to five years is managing the quality and effectiveness of health care in an affordable way.

Speaking at Rogue Valley Country Club, Geoff Swanson suggested the best way to contain escalating health care costs is to borrow a page from Mission Control when Apollo 13 was in grave danger.

"There are a lot of work efforts going on to try to fix the problem that you of consumer and payer end appreciate," he said. "We're pretty good at doing that in America." 

"The Affordable Care Act was supposed to fix all this stuff," he said. "Frankly, it missed the mark. The ACA has extended the same type of care process we had to more people; it will probably hasten the financial obligations we have. Where we now have four people supporting (Medicare and Medicaid) in a tax burden process, we're going to have two pretty quick."

As an example, he pointed to one employer whose expenditure for employee health care rose from $9,235 annually to $19,393 in a nine-year period. 

"The long-range financial imbalance of health care means you have to either have an immediate increase in the tax rate to support this process, or cut 53 percent of expenditures," Swanson said. "If we don't fix Medicare, it doesn't matter what else we do fiscally in America. If we do fix this, everything else goes away, all of our problems go away. So there is no question that this is the single biggest financial burden our country has."

Forty-two percent of venture capital is now going into health care devices, producing rapid change.

"These things are going to be tremendously disruptive to health care in an industry that is very stodgy and has not responded very well."

When major forces collide, he said, some elements of the industry will cling to the status quo, while others will grasp for larger market share through mergers and acquisitions.

"These guys had a massive problem and very little time to sort through the process," Swanson said. "They put their heads together and collaborated from a bunch of directions."

He said health care's array of issues require a similar approach. Providers think about clinical problems, better and more efficient care.

"But what we really have is a business problem," Swanson said.

Patient health care expenditure skyrockets once a patient turns 50 and rises exponentially as the years pass. With limited dollars, he asked where dollars could be best spent.

"Think about where you would spend money if you were designing a system," Swanson said. "Would you spend it in obesity? Would you spend it in drug abuse or behavioral health? Or would you spend it in ICU care that for a lot of people is relatively futile?"

Asante was one of the founding partners of Propel Health, along with Bay Area Hospital, Mid-Columbia Medical Center, Moda Health, Oregon Health & Science University, Salem Health, Sky Lakes Medical Center and St. Charles Health System. Together the so-called system of systems attempts to manage the health of a population, he said, not just the sickness of a population.

"It means you influence people and populations, not just patients," Swanson said. "In fact, in a population health model, you don't want people to be patients, you want to intervene in them before they have to become patients because something went awry."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31, and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/EconomicEdge.

 

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