Grand Junction health care: Can it go national?

The Denver Post reprinted an AP article on Sunday that proclaimed: “Democrats say Grand Junction is a model for learning how to lower health care costs and improve care.” But it’s not just Democrats.

According the Christian Science Monitor, Obama held a town hall meeting on health care in the Colorado town Saturday because Grand Junction actually does control health-care costs while maintaining high quality care. In fact, while the national average Medicare reimbursement is $8,300, Grand Junction averages about $5,900. That savings cuts across government and private insurance. Similarly, the New York Times reports that over a two-year period, Mesa County Medicare spending was $21,000 per person, compared to $60,000 dollars in other areas of the country.

John Hopkins, CEO of Rocky Mountain Health Plans (the HMO that covers Grand Junction), told the Monitor that communication is what makes health care affordable in the town. He explained that Doctors regularly get together with the HMO to discuss care, treatments, and costs.

With the use of an electronic network to share patient information, doctors are able to assess patients in a manner that allows them to reduce unnecessary testing and reduce hospital stays.

Hopkins told the monitor that “More care doesn’t necessarily result in better care.”

The was started when physicians and members of the community came together to create a system in which patients all paid the same amount, whether paying through Medicare, Medicaid, or private insurance.

According to the New York Times, Grand Junction physicians agreed in 1974 to “treat any patient with any insurance.” They even set up a free clinic for those without insurance.

“Some doctors pick patients and say they only want patients with good insurance,” Janet Grant, a certified nurse midwife, told the Times. “Not here. Here everyone takes a little less money from the HMO, but we know we get paid. It all works out.”

The Times reported that the success of Grand Junction’s system should be tempered by the understanding that any national system would have to address greater complexities.

”We have a lesson, but it’s going to be difficult to apply what we do here to big cities, where you have a less homogeneous group of doctors,” Dr. Joel Dean, a Grand Junction neurologist who has been one of the HMO’s specialists for about two decades told the Times. ”Here, we share data and we cooperate. We talk about what works and what doesn’t work,” Dean said. ”Can you do that nationally? I don’t know.”

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