Chronic illness costs rise dramatically

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(Host) Vermont Health Commissioner Doctor Paul Jarris says the state will be unable to maintain its current levels of health care access, unless changes are made in the way services are delivered to chronically ill people.

Speaking Tuesday night on VPR’s Switchboard program, Jarris noted that health care costs have increased more than 55% over the past six years in the state. He says expenditures in the Vermont Medicaid program have risen roughly 80% in the same time period:

(Jarris) “It’s been dramatic, it’s been two to three times the inflation rate between 2000 and 2001. We saw health care costs go up over $400 – about $440 per Vermonter. This is not something that’s sustainable if we wish to continue to provide care to nearly all Vermonters, and ideally all Vermonters.”

(Host) Jarris says nearly 80% of all health care expenses in Vermont represent services delivered to chronically ill patients.

The commissioner says a new public-private collaboration has been launched to help provide these patients with more comprehensive services, using preventative programs. According to Jarris, the goal is to educate and empower consumers, while lowering health care costs:

(Jarris) “Over half of the people with chronic illness see three or more doctors, some people up to six doctors. They also have lab tests, x-rays, go to hospitals and it’s become too complex for people to manage that care on their own. So for providers, for doctors, hospitals, nurses for the people who finance this – we all recognize that our current system has to evolve to a system that takes care of today’s problems.”

(Host) The new program initially focuses on treatment for diabetes. The diabetes program may be used as a model for other chronic illnesses in the future.

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