Blue Cross discusses health care improvementHealth officials are looking for input on what changes need to be made to improve health care systems in North Dakota, a search that brought them to Dickinson on Tuesday.
By: Klark Byrd, The Dickinson Press
Health officials are looking for input on what changes need to be made to improve health care systems in North Dakota, a search that brought them to Dickinson on Tuesday.
Blue Cross Blue Shield President Paul von Ebers and Catholic Health Initiatives representative Chris Jones answered questions during the sixth of seven North Dakota Health Care forums Tuesday at Dickinson’s Ramada Grand Dakota Lodge.
The discussions covered the increased cost of care and improving quality and access to health care facilities.
“The biggest issue by far is health care costs,” von Ebers said. “It is both cost of insurance premium and what they have to pay out of pocket.”
Since 2000, health care costs have risen about 8 percent on average, von Ebers said.
However, the cost of health care can actually be lowered if quality of care can be improved.
Blue Cross has undertaken initiatives to support preventative screenings and started programs to get people more active, von Ebers said, which will essentially lower the cost.
“People will feel better. There will be less disease,” he said. “So those are two win-win
For North Dakota, nearly 85 percent of care is given in the six large health systems in Fargo, Bismarck, Minot and Grand Forks, von Ebers said.
Concerns were raised that health care wouldn’t be able to keep up with the growth around Dickinson, but Jones said there is already a search for more physicians.
“We all know there is a shortage of doctors, and that shortage is going to become even greater over time,” he said. “We want to make sure Dickinson has options for those physicians to practice in an environment they are comfortable in.”
Dickinson resident Ken Denton said it can get confusing sifting through different insurance policies, and sometimes it might be too late to determine if it is a quality program.
“Really I found out when I got sick. I had a policy and saw what it did then,” he said with a grin. “That is a good way to compare, but the cart is before the horse.”
Von Ebers said that many changes will come with the health care reform in 2014 and one of the changes might help to reduce confusion of policies.
Insurance policies will be compared on an Internet exchange that lists the rates of each company and each policy. Different policies will have a different rating based on what they cover.
“We have to cover what the government tells us to cover,” von Ebers said.
Beginning in 2014, insurance companies cannot ask patients about health problems before accepting them for policies. Von Ebers said his company was in support of the change because it is more fair for patients and evens the playing field for insurance companies.
“We support the change because it forces all insurance companies to change all at once,” he said.
About 11 percent of North Dakota’s population does not have insurance of any kind, von Ebers said.
“People who are uninsured drive up the cost for the rest of us,” he said. However, he said if everyone was insured patients would likely seek care more often which may also lead to increased rates.
The forums are a way to get a good base to start discussions, but health care officials are still seeking the final answers.
“What North Dakota is saying is the same thing Congress is saying, is the same thing the rest of the nation is saying, and that is we have to reduce the cost, we have to improve the quality and have to improve the access,” Jones said.