The three CEOs of the Tri-City hospitals painted a gloomy picture for the future of health care Friday, talking of rising costs and falling payments to doctors and hospitals.
"There is going to be a rationing of services," predicted Rand Wortman, CEO of Kadlec Health System, during a Columbia Basin Badger Club forum.
National spending on health care amounts to about 17.5 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product and is projected to rise to 25 percent by 2025, Wortman said.
According to data from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, health care spending per capita has grown from $2,800 per person in 1990 to about $8,000 per person currently and will rise to $12,800 per person by 2016.
With the baby boomer generation hitting retirement age and becoming eligible for Medicare, that will put a strain on the system that could bankrupt it in 12 years, he said.
A big part of the problem is a system that pays providers for treating sick patients, not for preventing illnesses, Wortman said.
Without prevention, the rates of conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, heart disease and cancers only will continue to grow.
"The future of health care -- I don't want to tell you it's ugly, but it is going to be difficult," Wortman said.
Kennewick General Hospital CEO Glen Marshall said lower reimbursements by Medicare and health insurance companies, plus an aging population, will lead to shortages of doctors, nurses and other health care providers as patient numbers increase.
"As health care providers, we're going to be asked to do a lot more with a lot less," he said. "As hospitals, we have to figure out how to deal with that."
John Serle, CEO of Lourdes Health Network, provided a glimmer of optimism, saying the challenges facing health care providers also are opportunities for greater collaboration to reduce costs and eliminate redundancies.
"We are looking to partner with other organizations in the Tri-Cities," he said.
He also said he has been converted to a belief that wellness programs can help stem the tide of rising health care costs since his human resources staff convinced him three years ago to start a program at Lourdes in an effort to make premiums more affordable for families.
The Pasco hospital reduced premiums for families by about $200 per month -- with the hospital picking up that cost, he said.
That enabled more Lourdes employees with families to be able to afford insurance and to be healthier. As a result, the hospital has seen health insurance premiums remain stable while other businesses have seen double-digit annual increases.
"We haven't had to raise health care premiums in three years," he said.