West Michigan Business Leaders Share How They’re Managing Health Care Costs

West Michigan Business Leaders Share How They’re Managing Health Care Costs

It’s no secret that health care costs continue to rise, forcing employers to make hard choices when it comes to the benefits they offer current and prospective employees.

Panelists at a recent presentation in Spring Lake know all too well the challenges faced when it comes to keeping workers happy and healthy, all while keeping the bottom line in mind.

Grand Valley State University and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan partnered to bring the annual Health Check report to the lakeshore at a luncheon on Friday, March 2. The report sheds light on health care trends and opportunities that exist in the West Michigan region. Read more about the report findings here.

The luncheon also provided a chance for local business leaders to come together and talk about strategies for containing costs. A panel discussion was led by Lody Zwarensteyn, contributing writer to the Grand Rapids Business Journal and past president of the Alliance for Health, a disbanded non-profit funded by area employers that advocated for the region’s health care needs.

Members of the panel included Dennis Furton, superintendent of Spring Lake Public Schools; Wendy Brown, benefits manager at ADAC Automotive; and Paul Isley, associate dean for undergraduate programs in the Seidman College of Business at Grand Valley State University.

Zwarensteyn started off by asking Isley if the Health Check report offered any clue to disparities in cost across the state. He questioned why hospital costs are higher in Grand Rapids than they are in Detroit, despite health care wages in the region that are lower.

Isley said behavior suggests that West Michigan residents aren’t substantially sicker than people in other parts of the state or country, so it’s likely due to variances in the types of care residents are receiving or the price they’re being charged. He explained later that health care competition in West Michigan has decreased, and that as an economist, he’d want to look closely at prices as a likely factor.

Zwarensteyn said it’s important that the lakeshore and surrounding regions have a vibrant health care system as it’s good for employees and employers.

“Great talent does not drive 40 to 50 miles for their health care,” Zwarensteyn explained.

Brown and Furton both said controlling and influencing what they can is vital to their health care philosophy as employers.

Furton said Spring Lake Public Schools was one of eight charter members of the Western Michigan Health Insurance Pool when it formed in 2005 with the aim of reducing health insurance costs. Since then, the pool has expanded to include more than 90 organizations.

Through the analytics tools at their disposal, Furton said the pool found out that people in Grand Rapids were three times more likely to be diagnosed with a specific condition than they were in Detroit. Now when that diagnosis comes up, pool members are required to get a second opinion outside of the Grand Rapids area, just one example of how being part of a larger network is helping his district reduce costs.

Brown recently implemented a wellness program for ADAC employees. A “know your numbers” campaign established baselines for participants for items such as blood pressure and weight. The program is voluntary, but participants do receive a benefit in their health savings account if they take part. About 60 percent of ADAC employees have opted in and Brown said she’s noticing her own co-workers making healthy lifestyle changes.

“I think it’s working already,” Brown said.

Zwarensteyn questioned Brown and Furton about whether or not they thought it was in their realm of responsibility to make sure health care prices are fair to their employers. Both said they did, with Brown adding it needs to be the responsibility and concern of everyone involved in the health care system.

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Photo credit: reynermedia

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