Mesa County’s Rx

Health care does not operate in a true free-market environment, where price is a primary concern. If your child suffers from a life-threatening disease, you want access to all the best medical services and technology available, and price be damned.

However, there are aspects of our health care system that are subject to market influences. The Mesa County commissioners have evidently hit upon one of them, much to the frustration of some local health care providers.

It would have been great if the county had contracted with some local entity for the establishment of a county-owned clinic for its employees, instead of an Indiana-based company. But all elected officials must balance the beneficial effects that may accrue from doing business locally with their fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers.

Whether buying trucks, contracting for road work or establishing a medical clinic, the county cannot allow local preference to drive costs out of hand. Taxpayers would rightly be furious if the commissioners paid double for an item or service, simply because it was offered by a local vendor.

County officials estimate the clinic approved this week will save the county $335,000 next year over its current system of self-insurance. Some local health care providers dispute that projection , but there is no question the county — as with virtually every other entity that provides health insurance to its employees — has been facing unsustainable increases in its insurance costs.

But health care delivery in this country is changing.

Much of that change will come from the legislation recently passed by Congress. But change was already occurring due to the seemingly endless price hikes in health care. Other government entities and private companies have formed their own clinics to control costs.

The Mesa County commissioners deserve credit for exploring innovative ways to keep costs under control, rather than deciding that health care for county employees must be delivered the same old way it has always been provided.

However, we are concerned that the county’s prescription for its health insurance expenses could have serious impacts on the local health care network that, among other things, assists physicians who cover Medicaid patients. The column below provides more detail on those concerns.

The $191,000 contract with Novia CareClinics LLC of Indiana is for one year. And Commissioners Janet Rowland and Craig Meis made it clear they are open to discussions with local health care providers of the next year to determine if a competitive local model for a county-owned clinic is feasible.

We hope that occurs. Health care providers in Mesa County have received deserved attention for their innovation and cost-containment efforts. Meis and Rowland have stepped outside traditional avenues to find a model they believe will serve both county employees and taxpayers. Time will tell whether it can achieve that without seriously damaging the local health network.


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