Maine hospitals tout Medicare cost data, but health care quality watchdog says ‘we could be a lot better’

Posted June 03, 2014, at 8:03 a.m.

Maine hospitals are touting new data released by the federal government showing the state delivers health care to seniors more cost effectively than most of its counterparts.

A Maine health care cost and quality organization, however, urged examining the numbers from a global perspective.

On Monday, Medicare released a trove of data aimed at making health care costs and outcomes more available and understandable to the public. Among the warehouse of information was data showing geographic variation in costs under Medicare, the government health insurance program for seniors.

Maine’s total Medicare expenditures per capita were 17 percent lower than the national average. The figures account for the portion of the population covered under Medicare, excluding other forms of health insurance, and reflect Medicare reimbursement rates and beneficiaries’ use of health care services across all types of providers.

The Maine Hospital Association highlighted expenditures for inpatient hospital care, which were even lower, falling 20 percent below the national average. From 2009 to 2012, those costs rose less than a half of 1 percent, the association said in a Tuesday news release.

“On a cost basis in Medicare, we’re a good provider,” said Jeff Austin, vice president of government affairs and communications for the Maine Hospital Association. “That’s a message we continually try to deliver to Washington, that they need to become smarter purchasers.”

As for the quality of that health care, the association pointed to a separate set of data previously published by a division of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services showing Maine hospitals delivered the best quality care in the nation.

While Maine hospitals compare well against other states, the U.S. sets a discouragingly low bar for health care, said Nancy Morris, a spokeswoman for the Maine Health Management Coalition.

“We’re better than the national average, and that’s good,” she said. “But the reality is we could be a lot better.”

The U.S. spends far too much money on health care yet sees poorer results, she said. The World Health Organization ranks the U.S. health system 37th in overall performance, Morris noted.

“The average in the United States is way off kilter with the industrialized world,” she said. “Other countries are providing better care at significantly less cost than we are, and that’s what we have to get to.”

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