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Pittsburgh patients spend more time, money in hospital: Analysis


Health care patients in Pittsburgh pay more for medical treatment and spend more time in the hospital per visit than patients in comparable Midwestern cities, according to a study by the Pittsburgh Business Group on Health.

Patients in the greater Pittsburgh area paid as much as 39.1% more for certain medical procedures in 2009 than patients in Cincinnati, St. Louis and Cleveland despite average hourly and annual wages that were less than those in the three other cities, according to the study.

With 50 hospitals, the number of hospitals and recorded admissions in 2009 were comparable with other cities, but patient stays in Pittsburgh hospitals were an average of 14.1% longer, the study concluded.

Christine Whipple, the PBGH's executive director, said in a statement Monday that the nonprofit group conducted the study in conjunction with the Newton, Conn.-based Health Care Incentives Improvement Institute Inc. to develop “a baseline understanding of the delivery and cost of health care in our market,” in part to help employers identify potential impacts to their health benefits programs.

"It was equally important to determine if the cost and use of health care services is different and, if so, examine how and why,” Ms. Whipple said. While basic admissions were generally in line with other cities, Pittsburgh hospitals delivered far more surgeries and outpatient visits in 2009 than their counterparts in Cincinnati, St. Louis and Cleveland.

“We found that the higher use of services in the Pittsburgh region is producing higher costs for health care,” Ms. Whipple said. “However, without knowing the actual payments to providers for health care services (and the link to the information), it is unclear just how much more employers and their employees are paying for health care in our region."

Health Care Incentives Improvement Institute Executive Director Francois de Brantes said he hoped the information would lead more collaboration among employers, insurers and providers to reduce health benefits costs and improve care, particularly by way of “payment reforms and value-based purchasing and benefit design.”

“Employers should demand from their health plans new payment models that impose financial risk on providers for excessive and unwarranted use of services,” Mr. de Brantes said. “Additionally, Pittsburgh's employers would benefit by being more aggressive in incenting employees to use low-cost, high-value providers.”