Missouri hospitals are doing all the right things to decrease hospitalizations. It seems counterproductive for hospitals to prevent the very thing that pays the bills, keeps the doors open and keeps the lights on but that is exactly what they’ve done. Some may ask “why would a hospital work to reduce preventable hospitalizations”, the answer is easy. It’s because hospitals are focused on doing the right things to keep people healthy and they are providing patients the knowledge and tools to manage their own health.
An MHA report released recently finds that the state has made significant progress in reducing preventable hospitalizations throughout the past decade. Overall, preventable hospitalizations fell 18.8 percent between 2003 and 2013. This represents a 22.2 percent decrease in acute preventable hospitalizations and a 16.4 percent decrease in chronic preventable hospitalizations throughout the past 10 years.
Reduced preventable admissions means reduced health care expenses for Missourians. The study finds that with an annual inflation rate of 5 percent, Missourians saved approximately $2.4 billion since 2003. Last year alone, $470 million in costs for preventable care were avoided.
$2.4 billion is a lot of money and it sounds like there are more opportunities to save but the infrastructure in Missouri doesn’t allow for it. The most effective way to prevent hospitalizations is to provide people access to primary care. Missouri, like most states, has a primary care shortage and many patients are not able to connect with a primary care provider. The state has also chosen not to expand Medicaid which again decreases access to care. If someone doesn’t have health insurance it may be difficult, if not impossible, to establish a relationship with a primary care provider which results in conditions going untreated and controllable conditions growing out of control.
Missouri’s health status has fallen precipitously throughout the past two decades. In 20 years, Missouri has fallen from 24th to 42nd nationally, according to the United Health Foundation. Eleven Missouri counties have lower average life expectancy than Third World nations. And, without movement on Medicaid reform and solid enrollment in the health insurance marketplace, Missouri will have hundreds of thousands more uninsured citizens.
Access to primary care and preventive services would offer the opportunity to continue our progress in reducing preventable hospitalizations. And, this policy tool is available.
Chronic conditions can be managed, and acute conditions need not become so. Moreover, there are hundreds of millions of dollars to be saved and thousands of lives that we could improve if we continue as a state to make smart investments in community-based health care systems. Medicaid expansion in Missouri is an investment, not an expense.