Hospitals aren't about to give insurers the final word on who's to blame for the nation's rising healthcare costs.
The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association rankled hospitals last month when it released a 400-page study that zeroed in on hospital consolidation and health systems' overuse of expensive medical technology as two factors most jeopardizing the future affordability of healthcare (Oct. 28, p. 6).
Now the Federation of American Hospitals, which represents some 1,700 for-profit hospitals, confirmed it is planning to respond to the Blues association by launching its own study into healthcare cost drivers-one that will look specifically at rising insurance premiums, among other things.
"We'll have a lot to say on that," Federation President Chip Kahn said of healthcare cost inflation during a meeting with Modern Healthcare staff.
Prior to joining the federation in June 2001, Kahn served as president of the Health Insurance Association of America, which represents about 300 health plans.
Kahn said the Washington-based federation is working with other hospital groups on the report and has begun preliminary research, though he declined to elaborate in a follow-up interview. Federation spokesman Richard Coorsh downplayed the notion that the research was prompted by the Blues report and that its own study would be designed to refute the Blues findings. "We all share the same concerns about rising healthcare costs," he said. "There shouldn't ever be a shortage of good research."
Carmela Coyle, senior vice president of policy at the American Hospital Association, declined to confirm or deny whether her organization was involved with the report, saying only that the AHA always has done "a lot of work toward better understanding the reasons behind the nation's rising healthcare costs."
The AHA, however, was among the many groups that reacted heatedly to the Blues report, characterizing it as an attempt by Blues plans to shift blame at a time when insurers are facing increased criticism for ratcheting up premiums. "It's ... interesting that they neglected to look at one very big cost factor, and that is insurers' profits," Coyle said at the time the Blues study was released.
Blues association officials said they were not particularly surprised by news of the pending report. "Hopefully their contribution will help in our goal of keeping healthcare affordable and reducing the number of uninsured," Blues spokesman Christopher Hamrick said.
Separately, a new study released this month by the business coalition HealthSense, Trenton, N.J., found that New Jersey hospitals are driving up healthcare costs with longer, costlier admissions than other states.
According to the study, New Jersey hospital stays averaged six days in 2000-the sixth-longest in the nation-while many other states saw their lengths of stay decline. The state's hospitals also charged an average of $7,847 per admission in 2000, 11% higher than the national average.
The New Jersey Hospital Association, however, contends the HealthSense study is flawed because the data is outdated and incomplete. The group also pointed out that HealthSense's members include HMOs. Michele Guhl, president of the New Jersey Association of Health Plans, sits on the group's board of trustees.