Health Care and Insurance and Economy and Economic Development and Small Business

VOICES FROM THE INDUSTRY: For a healthier economy, we need healthier Hoosiers

July 23, 2007

Indiana needs a trip to the doctor-and a stern lecture when we get there.

We're among the nation's unhealthiest states. More than one of every four Hoosiers is obese, and we rank among the 10 worst states for smoking and high cholesterol. The outcomes should come put more stress on the system and drive up prices and premiums for everyone.

Gov. Daniels has signed a progressive bill that provides affordable health insurance with a medical savings account plan to Hoosiers who earn at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. The plan also opens the door for certain small businesses to pool together to purchase health insurance for their employees. This provision must be aggressively pushed and expanded because just 35 percent of Indiana small businesses offer health benefits as opposed to 43 percent nationally.

as no surprise-Hoosiers are more likely to suffer from cancer, heart disease and diabetes than the average American.

This is a sad state of affairs. And worse yet, our poor collective health is starting to infect our economy.

Now more than ever, health care is an economic development issue. The rising costs of health benefits are straining corporate budgets, and the growing burden of care for the non-insured is ultimately borne by the private sector as well. In all, Indiana spends more than $33 billion on health care, more than 14 percent of Gross State Product. These are dollars that can't be invested in new businesses, workforce training and other economic priorities.

Curbing health costs would remove a major barrier to economic growth and make Indiana a more attractive place to start or expand a business. But how?

The Central Indiana Corporate Partnership is studying these issues, and has developed some preliminary findings that are being shaped into specific strategies and potential initiatives.

For example, one major issue in health care today is the systematic breakdown in communication among providers-physicians and hospitals have no standardized way to share patient data. This breeds inefficiency and leads to dangerous lapses in care. Fortunately, central Indiana has created a national model for solving this problem through the Indiana Health Information Exchange, an electronic network that allows providers to share information in a secure way, improving effectiveness and efficiency. Support for IHIE is a must.

The health care market is also skewed by the lack of quality and cost information available to consumers. Patients (and their physicians, for that matter) rarely have a real sense of how much their treatments cost, and outcome-based performance information for providers is also hard to come by.

Employers have an incentive to make this information available to physicians and to those enrolled in their group plans-armed with the right knowledge and incentives, employees and their physicians can make better-informed health care choices, bringing benefit premiums down. One option for collecting and sharing this information is Quality Health 1st, a partnership among IHIE and several major health plans, employers and providers seeking to provide standardized quality reporting. Expanding participation in Quality Health 1st would be the most efficient way to give Hoosiers greater access to performance data.

We also must strive to expand health coverage; health costs for the uninsured

Finally, we have to strike at the heart of the issue-getting Hoosiers to adopt healthier lifestyles. Central Indiana already has an excellent initiative called FitCity Indianapolis focused on children and adolescents, aimed at promoting physical activity and good nutrition. One approach would be working with FitCity to expand its reach, specifically developing tools that would help employers create wellness programs for their employees. Getting the corporate community involved in encouraging healthy choices is the most effective way to reach a wide audience and drive down the cost of health benefits.

There's no easy cure for Indiana's health care ills-it will take a number of interconnected programs, partnerships and public policy prescriptions to fix a broken marketplace and improve individual behaviors. But the return on this investment can be tremendous-Hoosiers living longer, healthier lives, and a stronger economy where health care is a reasonable cost of doing business.



Miles is CEO of the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership. Views expressed here are the writer's.
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