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Ogden, other Utah cities among lowest in spending for health care

Ogden, other Utah cities among lowest in spending for health care

By Wendy Leonard | Posted - Sep. 18, 2011 at 8:15 p.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY — What the average person spends on health care varies throughout the nation, but residents of one northern Utah city shell out 36 percent less than their counterparts in the Midwest.

The Ogden-Clearfield area has the lowest medical care spending in the United States, with $2,623 per capita, whereas spending in Anderson, Ind., runs up to $7,231 a year, according to a recent report released by Thomson Reuters, which assessed the health care experiences of more than 20 million Americans who are insured through employer-sponsored plans.

Salt Lake City ranked 8th lowest in the nation, with health care spending at $2,979 per person. In all cases, prescription drug medication made up the largest percentage of costs.

"Utah has a healthier population and a younger population," said Jill Vicory, spokeswoman for the Utah Hospitals and Health Systems Association, a nonprofit group that represents Utah hospitals and health systems. She said the state also has the lowest number of smokers and cancer prevalence as well, which likely helps keep health care costs low.

Utah has a healthier population and a younger population." -- Jill Vicory, spokeswoman for the Utah Hospitals and Health Systems Association

The recently implemented Clinical Health Information Exchange, Vicory said, is helping to create a general awareness about healthy lifestyles and keeping people in the loop on their own health. But perhaps the biggest factor that is driving costs down in Utah is that there are four major health care providers that create a more competitive environment.

In addition to Utah, several other states have similarly low collective spending for medical care, inpatient and outpatient care and prescription drugs, putting them much lower than the majority of the rest of the nation.

Cities in Iowa, Arkansas, Texas, North Dakota and South Dakota round out the top 10 with the lowest health care spending per capita, according to the report.

Many Eastern states and cities, as well as Kingman, Ariz., and Carson City, Nev., rank among the highest spending metropolitan areas. In addition to Anderson, Ind., residents in cities of Florida, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Michigan all pay at least $5,931 or more for health care and related procedures.

The federal government estimates that health care costs more than tripled from 1990 to 2009, even as new technologies and services come online and a large percentage of Americans are experiencing worsening health status, particularly obesity, according to the national advocacy group Alliance for Health Reform.

Prevention is really the best key to reducing big pay-outs later on in health care.

–- Vicory

While local health care expenditures remain lower than in most of the nation, individuals are still choosing to delay treatment because of cost concerns, according to a 2010 poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation. One in five respondents said they had a serious problem paying for health care and health insurance as a result of the economic recession.

"Even those who do have jobs are thinking twice about elective surgeries and different procedures to have because of the financial implications," Vicory said, adding that many are no longer insured, which makes a difference in determining what services are necessary.

Many providers, as well as state policymakers, are developing programs involving an emphasis on preventive care, which Vicory said is less expensive and more effective in the long run.

"Prevention is really the best key to reducing big pay- outs later on in health care," she said. Other countries have focused on preventive care for decades, while the U.S. is just catching on.

Prescription drug costs are continuously rising in the U.S. — about 5.3 percent in 2009 alone — but Vicory said that when used correctly, "they can keep you out of the hospital."

Thomson Reuters' report is based on health care statistics gathered in 2009 from 382 metropolitan areas. A full version of the study is available online, at white_papers/474284.

Wendy Leonard


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