The cost of getting better
 
JOHN M. ROGERS

The Enterprise

It costs less to be sick in Utah that just about anywhere in the United States and among the reasons are its people’s healthy lifestyle, their consciousness concerning what to do when problems occur and the state’s efficiency in spending healthcare dollars.

Those are the conclusions of a pair of nationwide studies conducted recently which vary slightly in rankings but concur when it comes to Utah’s overall reasonably priced healthcare.

A report released earlier this year by medical search engine BetterDoctor.com using data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, found Utah was one of the least expensive states in the nation for health- care costs, ranking 42 out of 50 in the healthcare cost index applied in the analysis. Idaho ranked 43rd on the list.

BetterDoctor health analyst Divya Raghavan compiled the report in April for the website in an effort to encourage transparency among hospitals for their associated costs, which she wrote were “notorious for being a black box ... because medical providers don’t disclose prices until after the procedure is complete.”

“It’s more common for residents to look abroad for certain procedures than it is for them to look between states because there is no regulation on transparency in many areas,” Raghavan said. “There’s usually no way to know how much a hospital charges for a procedure until you need one.”

The report examined average medical costs per state for four frequently billed “representative conditions,” which included asthma/bronchitis, pacemaker installation, seizures and diabetes and compared the numbers nationally to produce an index for pricing.

The report found a consistency within each state for procedure costs, according to Raghavan. Regardless of how much procedures cost, pricing is generally similar across the board in most states. If a state has some expensive procedures, it is likely to have expensive procedures throughout, while a state with low prices will have low prices for other procedures.

Raghavan said the reason for differences between states had nothing to do with the quality of care received, but rather was unique to each state. In the case of Utah, she noted that the state’s lower cost of living and comparatively better health than the expensive states are likely influences on its lower health- care costs.

“Utah residents generally live a healthier lifestyle than New Jersey, for example, which had the highest cost index of the states,” Raghavan said.

Local hospital administrators tend to agree with the BetterDoctors assessment. Kyle Hansen, CEO of Logan Regional Hospital, told the Logan Herald Journal that Utah has been cited as a state low health carecosts for years, thanks in part to Utah’s better general health resulting in lower amounts of chronic disease. 

Hansen also said his institution is striving to overcome the lack of pricing transparency the BetterDoctors report cited. “Consumers haven’t always had an active role in their healthcare decisions,” he said. “We’re working more towards a shared decision-making process, where doctors can inform their patients about their options, including the price of those options, as patients ask more specific questions. As patients learn more, they’ll likely be able to save more.”

Meanwhile, an analysis of state-by-state personal healthcare costs published in The Wall Street Journal has even better news. According to that report, Utah has the lowest individual healthcare costs in the United States — and the lowest hospital costs in the nation. The Journal study compared total per capita healthcare spending while BetterDoctor reported on the cost of specific procedures.

Average annual per capita healthcare costs are $6,815 in the U.S., compared to $5,031 in Utah, the Journal found. The data show that Utah’s overall healthcare costs are 26 percent below the national average and 46 percent lower than Massachusetts, the highest-cost state, according to the Journal report, where per capita healthcare costs are $9,278. Average hospital spending was $2,475 in the U.S. and $1,830 in Utah. In the U.S., hospital costs account for about 40 percent of total healthcare costs. The highest-spending states, according to the Journal, include Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York. Other states with the lowest healthcare costs include Arizona, Georgia and Idaho. 

While Utah’s demographics play a role in low health care spending, Steve Burrows, marketing and strategic planning director for SelectHealth, the insurance arm of Intermountain Healthcare, said Utah’s built-in culture of conservatism and self-reliance also makes people more interested in making good choices and therefore foregoing the need for expensive procedures and treatment.

“It starts with our citizens and members of health plans being conscious about their own health, trying where possible to prevent problems, and being educated enough to know what to do once problems occur,” Burrows told the Deseret News, adding that doctors are also researching, learning and applying best practices to provide the best outcomes.

On the negative side, The WSJ reported Utah has one of the highest per capita spending rates on dental care and falls in the middle for home health -care.

Utahns spend an average of $1,830 on hospital care each year and another $1,189 for physician and clinic services. The bulk of the remainder of the average $5,031 expenditures in Utah is for health insurance premiums.

The highest U.S. costs for hospital care were in Washington, D.C., where citizens paid an average of $4,948 per capita in 2009 — nearly three times Utah’s average spending.

The Journal also cited Utah for its continued efficiency in health- care spending.

“Our population density along the Wasatch Front also makes it easier to serve a significant portion of the state in a cost-effective manner,” said David Gessel, Utah Hospital Association vice president of government relations and legal affairs. 

As a confirmation of the good grades being given to the cost of healthcare in Utah, six Intermountain Healthcare hospitals in Utah were recognized recently for being among the nation’s best in providing value to their communities through strong financial standing, lower-than-average costs and high quality of care.

The “2015 State of the Hospital Industry,” a comprehensive study conducted by Ohio-based healthcare consulting and benchmarking firm Cleverley & Associates, used the Community Value Index (CVI) to measure the value a hospital provides to its community.

Intermountain’s Alta View Hospital, American Fork Hospital, Logan Regional Hospital, McKay-Dee Hospital, Sevier Valley Hospital and Valley View Medical Center all achieved CVI scores in the top quintile (20 percent) of their peer group of U.S. hospitals and have been designated as “Community Value Five-Star” hospitals for 2015.

The study assesses each hospital’s record of financial viability, facility reinvestments, maintenance of a low-cost structure, reasonable patient charges and quality of patient care. The data analyzed for the study come from a variety of reports and databases from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Read more: The Enterprise - Utahns pay less for medical services than just about anyone in the U S 

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