Talk of health care reform is everywhere these days. Maybe it’s just me – since I focus on news related to health care and health insurance – but it does seem to be a pretty common topic of conversation and news articles. And of course there’s lots of finger-pointing going on. Some folks blame health insurance carriers, some blame pharmaceutical companies, some blame docs and hospitals and medical schools, and some blame the government. But if we really look closely at the problem, it all comes down to cost. Health care is simply too expensive in this country, and the cost keeps increasing at a rate that is not sustainable long term. There are plenty of explanations for why we spend so much on health care, but however you look at it, we spend too much.
So I find it a bit hard to get my head around the notion that hospitals are adding perks like concierge service, gourmet room service, and cooking classes in an effort to attract privately insured patients. Private health insurance reimburses at a higher rate than government-funded Medicare and Medicaid. So hospitals compete with each other to get the privately insured patients. And they claim that they’re adding the extra amenities in order to “… find any way possible to reduce the stress, reduce the tension, reduce the anxiety.” According to Rick Wade, senior vice president of the American Hospital Association, that’s the motivation behind the push to add some posh to inpatient hospital stays. I’m not buying that at all. I think that hospitals are looking for avenues to boost revenue, and attracting a higher percentage of privately insured patients is a good way to go about it. Of course gourmet food and concierge services don’t come free. Somebody has to pay for all the bling, and the best way to do that is to increase what the hospital charges for care. Of course the hospitals can then explain the extra charges to health insurance carriers as their efforts to reduce patient stress and anxiety. It’s a convoluted circle, but however you look at it, the end result is higher health care costs.
While fancy suburban hospitals aimed at privately insured patients are adding beautiful atriums and high dollar artwork, hospitals like Denver Health are struggling to stay afloat. Denver Health treats a large number of Colorado’s uninsured patients, and their cost for that care is expected to hit $350 million in 2009. Hospitals like Denver Health are not on the list of places that are ramping up their glitz factor anytime soon.
I do understand the drive that hospitals have to increase revenue and attract privately insured patients. But the focus should be on providing outstanding medical care rather than fancy extras that make a hospital stay seem a bit spa-like. Adding non-essential services in hospitals that cater to well-to-do clients may make the hospital experience more enjoyable for those who can afford it. But the unintended consequence is that as time goes on, fewer people will be able to afford health care at all.