Unfortunately, the future will most likely bring many more changes and the cost of health care for you — the consumer — probably will not diminish. One thing we all need to be clear on is that the majority of the changes are not being dictated by physicians and health systems, they are driven by government (Medicare and Medicaid) and private commercial insurers.
Over the last two decades, the percentage of federal spending on health care has increased to over 18% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), with projections of that rising to 20 percent in the next few years. Government has responded to this by lowering the amount of reimbursements paid to health care providers (hospitals, physicians, and nursing homes), while at the same time driving new efforts toward personal wellness and healthy living to lower patients’ use of health care services.
In the private sector, commercial health insurers have raised premiums and shifted financial risk to their policy holders via higher premiums. In addition, insurers are inducing users to utilize lower-cost alternatives for care such as surgery, laboratory tests, or imaging exams by accessing these services from “stand alone” centers and providers rather than from hospitals and health systems. Individuals are now being faced with big financial decisions about their health care as well as many times being told to use facilities outside of their local market with unfamiliar providers. Welcome to health care in 2018.
Although our rural setting has somewhat protected us from significant changes that are more prevalent in the larger metropolitan areas, our local population is now starting to experience the impact of the newer trends at a very fast rate. Many independent community hospitals are not prepared or do not want to fight the changes, resulting in closures, mergers, and acquisitions into larger systems. This is exactly what the government and commercial insurers are driving toward. They want fewer organizations to deal with so they can eliminate offering numerous plans and services geared toward specific regional needs. This makes it easy for them to dictate when and where services can be provided and what services are appropriate, taking away your choices for individualized care.
We believe that each and every patient should have the ability to make their own decisions about who their physician is and where they choose to go for care. It is vitally important for you to remember that what you pay for health care is not determined by Fisher-Titus; it is determined by the organization providing your health insurance coverage. At Fisher-Titus, approximately 65% of our patients are insured by government-insurers Medicare and Medicaid, 32% are privately insured through commercial insurers, and the remaining 3% are self-pay or receive charity care from Fisher-Titus programs.
The next time your insurance carrier tells you to drive 30-40 miles for an X-ray, lab test, or surgery, ask them for a cost comparison to learn the real difference, and make up your own mind. We at Fisher-Titus relish our ability to provide quality health care at an affordable price and are proud of the high quality, safe, and low-cost care that we offer compared to larger urban area health systems.
We are very fortunate that our local health-care leaders have had the foresight to make the necessary decisions that allow us to continue in a financially stable position, while offering modern facilities, excellent physicians, and a full array of services. The number one priority from our board of directors down through every one of our 1,200-plus employees is to provide you the very best health care possible. Our goal is to remain an independent community hospital for as long as we can possibly maintain that status.
Finally, a stable rural economy exists when we have a few solid elements…an established core of businesses, good school systems, and reliable health care system. Let’s keep our local economy strong by supporting all three.
Matt Gross is CEO-Fisher-Titus Health.