West Michigan Health Check: 2017 Report Highlights Positive Trends and Opportunities

Julie Bitely

| 3 min read

More West Michiganders are insured, health care jobs are growing in the region, and an aging population will place even heavier demands on regional health care systems. Those are key takeaways from the 2017 Health Check, an annual report published by Grand Valley State University (GVSU) that provides insight to health-related trends, challenges and opportunities that exist in Kent, Ottawa, Muskegon and Allegan (KOMA) counties. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Blue Care Network provided grant funding and average cost data for the report, which was the highlight of a panel discussion at GVSU’s Eberhard Center on Friday, Jan. 13. Kevin Callison and Leslie Muller, professors of economics from the Seidman College of Business, presented the findings of the report. A panel discussion followed, featuring Tina Freese-Decker, president, Spectrum Health Hospital Group; Nick Lyon, director, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services; Dr. David Blair, President and Chief Medical Officer of Mercy Health Physician Partners of Grand Rapids; and Jim McDonald, vice president Total Rewards, Meijer. Highlights and opportunities for improvement from the report include:
  • Fewer Residents are Uninsured: The rate of uninsured people in West Michigan fell to five percent in 2016, a drop from nine percent in 2015. West Michigan respondents to a survey said their access to primary care physicians remained the same or was better than last year and that 81 percent are satisfied or very satisfied with their current insurance plans.
  • Jobs in Health Care are Flourishing: Health care jobs are growing at a faster rate in West Michigan than they are in the state or country. Large job growth is predicted for physical and occupational therapy assistants, orthotists and prosthetists, and home health aides. Nurse practitioners and physician assistants are also in high demand.
  • Baby Boomers are Changing Health Care: With more than 50 percent of lifetime spending on medical care occurring after the age of 65, an aging population will likely create challenges for the health care system. This trend holds true across the state and nation. “The share of the population that is over 65 is growing,” Callison said. “That definitely has implications for spending.”
  • The Region Continues to Struggle with Obesity: While rates of heavy drinking and cigarette use have held mostly steady or declined, obesity continues to rise. In West Michigan and Detroit, one-third of the population is obese with another third overweight. The issue drives up health care costs statewide, Lyon added. “We know it would be less costly if we could maintain a healthier lifestyle,” he said.
  • Overall Costs are Higher: Total hospital expenses per admission in Grand Rapids are above the national average. “A reduction in treatment intensity, especially for unnecessary or discretionary treatments could provide a significant reduction in overall health care expenditures,” the report concluded. On the other hand, Medicare expenditures in the Grand Rapids area are below the national average.
Dr. Thomas Simmer, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Sr. Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, said the report provided excellent data points about the prospects for training and health care jobs in the region, as well as interesting health trends. He was encouraged to see declines in smoking rates and lower overall Medicare costs in the region, attributed to better coordination of care for patients. “Care coordination, which we know is key with patient-centered medical home doctors, enables better patient care and helps contain health care costs,” he said. Areas of concern for Simmer include a rise in the use of emergency departments in Grand Rapids and a lack of health care access due to rising costs in the region. Read the full report here. If you enjoyed this post, you might also like:
Photo credit: Russell Sekeet
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