Quality Health Care – A Wisconsin Advantage

A skilled workforce is one of the most important aspects a business considers when determining where to locate or expand. So it makes sense that the final decision often comes down to the overall cost of labor—and that means health care costs must be a strong consideration for any business owner.

It is estimated that with the introduction of the Affordable Care Act, health care costs may increase 12 to 15 percent in 2014. This change to the system makes the reduction of health care costs even more important for a company. Access to high-quality health care will actually reduce health care costs over time, sometimes by as much as 40 to 50 percent. This can have a tremendous impact on the financial performance of a company, as well as the productivity and contentment of its employees.

With its proactive and collaborative culture, Wisconsin is leading the way for high-quality health care throughout the U.S. This culture brings state agencies and organizations, health care systems, payer systems and employers together to develop innovative solutions that deliver highly effective and efficient care, as well as reduce overall health related costs. According to a 2012 Commonwealth Fund Report on local health system performance, several Wisconsin communities placed in the top 10 in the country, and every Wisconsin community ranked in the top 25 percent.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services Health and Well Being Report ranks the state in the top 25 percent of the nation for high-quality, high-value health care, and indicates a higher percentage of Wisconsin residents have health insurance than in other states. In addition, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) has consistently ranked Wisconsin among the top four states in the nation for overall health care quality scores.

“These rankings are a result of the many ways Wisconsin health systems have worked to increase quality, improve outcomes and ultimately moderate health care costs,” says Eric Borgerding, executive vice president at the Wisconsin Hospital Association (WHA). “Health care is inevitably less expensive when patients have quick access to coordinated care delivered at the right place at the right time. For Wisconsin employers, that can translate into more productive employees and less absenteeism due to illness or disability.”

A new report released by WHA highlights a significant cost savings through quality improvement. The report documents Wisconsin hospitals’ efforts to improve the quality and safety of the patient care have reduced health care costs in Wisconsin by an estimated $45.6 million. More than 100 hospitals working together with WHA have reduced hospital readmissions, prevented hospital-associated infections and adverse events related to insulin, and reduced the number of babies delivered before 39 weeks.

A 2013 Commonwealth Fund Report that ranked overall health system performance for low-income populations placed Wisconsin among 12 states that ranked in the upper quartile. The report noted that “Healthier adults are less expensive to care for and have greater workforce productivity; healthier children are more likely to succeed in school and grow up to continue to participate in the workforce in the future. A healthy population is thus instrumental in maintaining strong local and state economies, as well as the nation’s economic health and well-being.”

Health care providers in Wisconsin are making a commitment and investment to help populations become healthier. For example, over the past several years, Watertown Regional Medical Center has developed a focus on wellness programming, offering fitness and nutrition services to its patients and the local community. In November 2013, the center opened Harvest Market, an onsite restaurant that serves healthy food made from 100 percent fresh ingredients. The market also features a demonstration kitchen, where staff dieticians and chefs teach healthy cooking classes to community members.

“Harvest Market was a direct result of our focus on enhancing the health of the community,” said John Kosanovich, President and CEO at Watertown Regional Medical Center. “Local community health statistics showed that our heart disease rate was higher than the national average. Since 70-80 percent of chronic disease is preventable, we knew we needed to make an investment in the overall health and wellness of our community members. We want to keep people feeling well so they’re able to go to work every day and enjoy life.”

Another area where Wisconsin commitment to high-quality care is producing tangible benefits is Wisconsin Workers Compensation system.

“High-quality care helps injured Wisconsin workers get healthy and return to work three weeks faster than in the average state,” Borgerding said.  “And these patients appreciate the outstanding care they receive, reporting higher levels of satisfaction and, thus, lower litigation rates than in other states. That is good for Wisconsin employees and a savings for employers.”

Annual growth in Wisconsin workers’ compensation medical payments dropped to 3 percent in 2012, while overall workers’ compensation insurance premiums have increased a grand total of .65 percent since 2009, or about .13 percent per year.

After almost 20 years of improvement in the state, the principles are in place and other states are looking to Wisconsin for guidance. Especially important to business owners is a proven track record. When steady gains are seen over time along with evidence of reinvestment and continual improvement, people take notice. And for this reason, Wisconsin is gaining national attention.

“There’s a lot of advantages to Wisconsin’s health programs,” Kosanovich said. “In this state, providers are willing to offer a patient experience that makes for better outcomes. We’re getting away from the traditional ‘transaction’ with a patient and moving towards relationship development. I’m seeing more of a proactive approach happening in Wisconsin compared to other states.”

Long-term partnerships among the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, WHA, hospitals, providers, payers and private-sector companies have resulted in nation-leading improvements in the quality and efficiency of health care—bringing reduced or even flat cost increases. Because Wisconsin provides some of the best health care in the nation, companies located here or that choose to locate within the state will provide their employees with exceptional health care at competitive rates, enjoy lower-than-average premium increases and improve productivity and job satisfaction—leading to a strong competitive advantage for Wisconsin’s employees and employers.

(April 2014)