Every few years someone in state government laments, “We need a better brand for Wisconsin!” Cabinet secretaries scurry about, agency communications directors scratch their heads over possible slogans and marketing campaigns go largely unfunded.

Tom Still

Still

Here’s an idea: Let’s talk about Wisconsin’s tangible business assets without making it all about tourism and cheese (as much as Badger state loyalists value both).

One such asset is quality health care, a commodity largely taken for granted inside Wisconsin and largely unknown to people and companies who may be thinking of moving or expanding here.

Much like an educated workforce, reliable public utilities and affordable business costs for land and talent are worth bragging about, so is quality health care. That’s the conclusion of a report issued this month by the Wisconsin Technology Council.

“Taking the pulse: How quality healthcare builds a better bottom line” examined leading indicators of health-care quality, based on public and private data. It also compared quality rankings to costs. Key findings were:

Wisconsin is consistently one of the top states for quality health care, as measured by 200 metrics compiled by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. It ranked No. 1 in the nation in 2017. In the seven-state region surrounding or within a day’s drive of Wisconsin, only two other states (Iowa and Minnesota) ranked in the top quartile. Wisconsin has ranked no lower than 7th nationally since 2006.

Wisconsin ranked just $3 above the national median ($4,666 versus $4,663) in the average employer share of single premium health insurance in 2015. That placed the state in the second-lowest cost quartile among the 50 states. Wisconsin was $800 above the national median ($13,187 versus $12,387) in the average employer share of family premium health insurance for the same year, still outside the most expensive quartile.

Wisconsin health insurance premiums are growing slower than other states in the seven-state region and the nation, especially since 2010. For single coverage, the cost increase has averaged 2.2 percent per year versus 3.8 percent nationally. Wisconsin ranked second best in the nation in this category. For family coverage, the cost increase has averaged 4 percent versus 4.5 percent nationally. Wisconsin is tied for 10th nationally in controlling the growth in family coverage premiums since 2010.

Wisconsin also ranks favorably in national and regional comparisons of deaths that could have been avoided by proper health care, Medicare 30-day hospital re-admissions, hospital length of stays, mean inpatient charges, the percentage of the total population covered by health insurance and use of electronic health records. All are rankings that speak to quality while controlling costs.

The logjam over Obamacare in Washington. D.C., has upended the health insurance market as companies and workers come to grips with rising costs. That confusion is playing out this fall in Wisconsin and elsewhere as group health plan enrollments come due for employers and employees alike.

One potential asset for Wisconsin is that it’s not a captive health insurance market. The report revealed that Wisconsin is one of only two states (New York is the other) in which the three largest insurers control less than 60 percent of the market. Other states in the seven-state region showed “top three” insurance market shares ranging from 67 to 97 percent. The U.S. median is 90 percent. More choice may lead to more competition over time, even if Obamacare is dismantled.

Employers have a right to complain about health-care costs, but they aren’t powerless to control the rate of increase or the outcomes.

As the report noted, individual companies, groups of companies or institutions have found ways to work with health systems. This is often accomplished through on-site clinics, incentive programs and prevention strategies that engage employees. Results include lower rates of absenteeism and people showing up sick; avoiding procedure costs through preventive care; and lower costs of care due to better physical fitness and health habits.

Examples cited in this report include Colony Brands and Monroe Clinic; Ashley Furniture and Gundersen Health System; Hoffmaster and Thedacare; Organic Valley and Vernon Memorial Healthcare; Northeast Wisconsin Technical College and Bellin Health; a collection of companies working with Columbus Community Hospital; and a mix of Chippewa Valley institutions working with Mayo Clinic.

Quality health care is not only nice to have; it’s an asset in the state-to-state race to attract and retain companies and workers. Let’s market one of the things Wisconsin does best.

Tom Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal. Read the full report at www.wisconsintechnologycouncil.com.

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