How Healthy Is West Michigan? Health Check 2015 Provides Snapshot of Region’s Health Trends and Issues

Julie Bitely

| 4 min read

There’s good and not-so-good news from the West Michigan Health Check 2015, a report issued by Grand Valley State University (GVSU). This is the sixth year for the annual report, which identifies significant health-related trends and issues facing Kent, Ottawa, Muskegon, and Allegan (KOMA) counties. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Blue Care Network joined Priority Health in providing average cost data for the report as well as grant funding for the project. Care outcomes tend to be better on the west side of the state, but costs for care are rising faster than in comparison communities. West Michigan could also still be doing better when it comes to major health risk factors. Health care costs are rising faster in Grand Rapids than they are in Detroit and other communities across the country of similar size.
  • Since 2003, total hospital expenses and total hospital expenses per bed shot up 108 percent and 78 percent respectively in Grand Rapids. Comparison cities experienced an average rise of 68 percent and 65 percent for those same markers, respectively.
  • Expenses per hospital admission in Grand Rapids grew from $17,500 to approximately $25,000 in that same time period.
  • Only Cleveland, Ohio, Portland, Ore., and Milwaukee, Wis., have total hospital expenses per admission higher than those in Grand Rapids. Other comparison communities highlighted in the report include Rochester, N.Y., Louisville, Ken., Buffalo, N.Y., and Akron, Ohio.
  • From 2003 to 2012, per-enrollee Medicare FFS expenditures in Grand Rapids increased by 32.4 percent, nearly three times faster than the average growth rate of the other seven comparison communities.
Still, despite higher costs, care outcomes in Grand Rapids and the region fared better than comparison communities. For example, Grand Rapids FFS Medicare enrollees with diabetes experience the fewest leg amputations per capita and are more likely to receive the A1C test, which is used to measure the effectiveness of diabetes management. Only FFS Medicare beneficiaries in Portland have fewer hospital discharges for ambulatory-sensitive conditions, a key quality of care marker. “We perform in West Michigan very well in terms of quality,” said Dr. Kevin Callison, GVSU professor of economics, and one of the authors of the report. Many factors are contributing to higher costs including decreased competition in the region and an aging population. More than 50 percent of lifetime spending on medical care occurs after the age of 65. There are now more people between the ages of 45 and 64 than any other age group, and as the Baby Boomer generation ages, their demand for healthcare will likely rise. Callison said the move to high-deductible health plans by employers is placing more of the cost burden on consumers, which could eventually lead to lower prices as they demand price transparency from providers. See how Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan is helping PPO members shop by price and other factors here. “When we do know that price, I think that will lead to lower prices in general,” Callison said. The report also looked at health risk factors in the region and found that a large number of people in West Michigan are still making unhealthy lifestyle choices.
  • 33 percent report being obese with a body mass index (BMI) greater than 30
  • 23 percent report no leisure time physical activity
  • 20 percent report that they smoke
  • 19 percent report that they binge drink
  • 30 percent report no routine checkup in the last year
“All of these activities result in people being less healthy with 17 percent of the population reporting poor or fair health,” the report authors wrote. “This directly leads to increased health care spending in the region with diseases related to behavioral choices trending higher. Diabetes is an example of this with nine percent of the population reporting they have diabetes.” Focusing on improving those health risk factors and reducing costs in the region are critical next steps for an improved Health Check 2016 and beyond. “Embracing healthy lifestyles and moving to population health management are critical strategies for minimizing our individual and community health risk factor profiles and health care costs,” wrote Jean Nagelkerk, GVSU’s vice provost for health, in the report’s introduction. “This report highlights the continuing risk factors of heavy and binge drinking, obesity, and inadequate exercise persisting in our region. These trends, coupled with increases in hospital expenses in KOMA, if continued, will have substantial impact on health care expenditures in our region.” “By emphasizing healthy lifestyles, especially focusing on health promotion, healthy food choices, and physical activity, we can improve the quality of life for individuals, families, and our communities as well as conserving valuable health care resources,” Nagelkerk wrote. You can read the full report here. Photo credit: DebMomOf3
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