Friday, August 28, 2009

Why health care costs keep going up, Part 2

I’ve been thinking about some of the reasons that it will be hard to contain health care costs even if we get meaningful and sustainable reform. One temporary but currently quite painful condition is the state of the economy. Several studies have shown that many people with chronic conditions such as diabetes or heart disease stop taking or take smaller doses of their medication or forego other medical care because they can no longer afford it. This results in greater costs to our overall health care system because they then go to the doctor or the emergency room only when they deteriorate and need more expensive treatments.

One of the advantages of UnitedHealthcare’s clinical partnerships with the physicians and hospitals in our network is that they help people who are not taking their medicines for financial or other reasons. Our computer can compile a list of people who didn’t fill their regular prescriptions every month and get that information to the physicians treating them, who can explain that not taking medicine will make you sicker and cost even more money.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Why health care costs keep going up

I have high hopes for health care reform: that it will result in most if not all Americans having health care insurance; that the quality of care will improve; and that costs will stop going up by so much year after year.

It’s in this third area that I have some concerns. In my 25 years in the health care insurance business, I’ve seen first hand some trends that will make it very hard, although not impossible, to contain future costs. The one that comes to mind first is unhealthy lifestyles. A multiyear study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that if people would do 4 simple things, exercise regularly, eat healthy, not smoke and maintain a normal weight, they could cut their risk of diabetes, heart attack, stroke or cancer by 80%.

Across the country, there continues to be an increase in these conditions. A new government study says that on average, we spend $1,400 year a more on medical costs for an obese person than for someone of normal weight. The total bill for delivering health care in our country would decline dramatically if more Americans adopted healthy eating habits and exercised regularly.