Increases in health insurance premiums such as those we have seen in Western New York in recent years are unsustainable. As a community we should not be putting people like Daniel Morano, featured in The Buffalo News article on Nov. 11 ("Health premiums rising up to 25%"), in a position of having to take a second job to afford health insurance. Nor can we allow more and more people to be forced out of health care coverage because they must choose between it and other necessities.
In the article, reporter Jonathan Epstein touches on many of the factors that drive health care costs upward. For every premium dollar we receive from our members, Independent Health spends more than 90 cents toward their medical care. This includes payment for hospitals, physicians, pharmacists, technicians, medications, devices and supplies. When the cost of providing this care escalates, premiums increase to cover the rising medical expenses.
It is well known the population in our region is aging, which will continue to increase utilization of health care services to support the population's changing needs. To maintain quality, we need to continue to take advantage of new technology and medicine proven to be effective in improving health.
There are other ways to address rising costs. For instance, health plans like ours look to create products and services that let people play a more active role in managing their health, which lowers costs. Unfortunately, these interventions alone are not enough.
Others within the community are also seeking solutions. Elected officials are developing policies to provide universal coverage, employers are promoting wellness programs in their companies, physicians are looking at ways to better share best practices to improve their outcomes and people are becoming more aware of the need to take preventive measures to avoid illness.
By combining our efforts, we can impact the conditions that predispose more people to chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. These diseases are becoming increasingly prevalent in our community and are responsible for a significant component of the cost increases.
Initiatives to promote healthier behaviors -- regular exercise, better eating habits, non-smoking, access to proven effective preventive services such as mammography and screening for cervical and colorectal cancer -- can be implemented throughout the community. Engaging people where they work, learn, play and worship will help reach more people than can be touched by the health care system on its own.
The P2 Collaborative of WNY, a community partnership between Independent Health, the other two local insurers, employers and key providers, has now grown to include more than 100 organizations in such an effort. Let's continue to work together to demonstrate the power of collaboration in improving health outcomes while stemming the trend in rising costs.
Michael Cropp is president & CEO of Independent Health.1