Health Care and Insurance and Economic Development

CHRIS KATTERJOHN Commentary: Health care close to implosion?

October 3, 2005

The rash of specialty-hospital construction in the suburbs is a gold rush, driven more by greed than the desire to satisfy an unmet need.

The fact that 45 million people in America are without health insurance is a deplorable national disaster.

The best way to use America's health care system is to not get sick.

These aren't the rants of a deranged publisher. These are comments made by a doctor and a pair of health care executives who were panelists at a recent breakfast forum on health care and insurance presented by IBJ.

I don't think there was a person in the 600-member audience who would disagree that the overall sentiment of the five panelists that morning was this: Our nation's health care system is flat-out broken, in need of a major overhaul.

(See an edited transcript of the discussion in our Health Care Focus on page17A.)

As a businessman who provides health insurance to his employees, I am acutely aware of escalating insurance costs that have absolutely hammered our budgets over the last several years. They single-handedly have made it impossible to retain traditional profit margins.

We are, of course, not alone. Every businessperson with a health insurance plan has faced the same challenge. The business community has been fighting this battle and screaming about it for years.

What surprised me at our breakfast last week was the level of exasperation ... almost desperation ... in the voices of people who are part of the system. I guess I hadn't spent much time considering their point of view.

I knew we were in a different world when a local hospital CEO said, "The ultimate answer is a single-payer [insurance] system that takes care of everybody." Which was quickly followed by this from the president of a managed care company: "We need a social program where everybody contributes to the health care of the entire community."

My father-a physician-would've called that socialized medicine, and those were fightin' words to him.

Clearly, they represent a sea change in the thinking of health care professionals, many of whom believe our current market-driven system is doomed to failure. Ten years ago, those words from a high-ranking health care executive would've been considered blasphemous.

The candid, no-holds-barred exchange at our breakfast was nothing short of riveting. I'd like to think the dialogue could be the beginning of a community-wide search for answers that might someday right the upside-down world of health care, health care insurance and access.

There seems to be a consensus that we need to start thinking outside the box. Our economic future may depend on it.

A recent study by human-resources firm Hewitt Associates predicted that when all is said and done, 2005 health care costs for businesses will have increased 11.3 percent in 2005, and that's down from a 12.3-percent increase last year.

At some point, high health care costs may have an impact on our economic development efforts. A study published last year by The Wall Street Journal Online showed Indianapolis as the nation's second-most-expensive city for total annual health care premium costs per employer and employee combined.

Would you want to move or expand your business here knowing that?

A friend of mine recently had a heart-attack scare. She went to the emergency room in excruciating pain and was admitted for a night of tests and observation. The following week, she had more tests. Her doctor wanted to do one last test he thought was critical, but my friend's insurance company wouldn't cover it.

I certainly don't have the answers, but I can tell you one thing: There's plenty wrong with this picture. My dad is spinning in his grave.



Katterjohn is publisher of IBJ. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to ckatterjohn@ibj.com.
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