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Barnabas Health President: Biggest Challenge is Managing Population’s Health

7-8-14

The state of New Jersey’s health depends on geography, especially considering hospitals in under-served areas have closed. There are also fewer doctors delivering primary care. But Barnabas Health is one of the top health care systems in the nation. Barnabas Health President and CEO Barry Ostrowsky told NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams that the industry has more work to do, but that progress has been made.

One of the biggest challenges is managing the population’s health. “For the most part we call ourselves the health care industry, but usually we just wait for you to get sick,” Ostrowsky said. “It’s the sick care industry. I think the big conversion we’re making as an enterprise and the industry in total is that we’d like to get to know you before you get sick and we think we have the mission and obligation to keep you healthy.”

The key to controlling the cost of health care is to avert illness, according to Ostrowsky. “We think we know how to do it and now we’re gonna be able to try to do it,” he said.

Barnabas Health bought 12 hospitals, shutting down three and organizing the other nine under its umbrella. Ostrowsky said because the company is so large, it’s able to produce a lot of services less expensively than others. “And the money that you save you now invest in clinical programs. So from a consumer standpoint, I don’t think anyone cares what the back room looks like in terms of the business work. They would like to know if we have the best physicians, the best facilities and that’s what we’re able to invest in,” he said.

After two Harvard hospitals merged, they controlled the market share and drove up the price of every hospital procedure for patients. While Ostrowsky said that’s a concern because large groups have leverage in dealing with the insurance companies, he said, “It’s certainly not our goal to do that. … We’ve been in business since 1996 as the biggest enterprise in New Jersey.”

Ostrowsky said Barnabas Health’s costs have gone up, but “our prices haven’t necessarily stayed with our costs because there is competition and there’s a more effective way now to really evaluate what an appropriate price is.”

The health care provider will be in the business of financing health care, though Ostrowsky said it won’t have an insurance license. “Through an arrangement with a licensee, an insurance company, we will be providing care that we finance,” he said.

According to Ostrowsky, the purpose is to gain revenue that can be reinvested into wellness programs. “You see, the problem with wellness historically has been no one wants to pay for it. So we’ve said, ‘Will someone please give us the money so we can invest in wellness?’ and now an insurance company has come forward and said, ‘I’ll tell you what. The premium dollar? We’ll share the premium dollar with you. How are you going to use it?’ And we say, ‘Let’s allocate some of it to wellness,’ and that’s what’s gonna be exciting about it,” he said.

Critics say health care costs are very high without any significant health improvement. Ostrowsky said, “I think the problem is most people say we spend a lot of money on health care in the United States and our data results are not that good. It’s not fair in our view because other countries spend more money on housing, on environment, and so by the time patients come to us, quite frankly, the data’s not gonna look good. Can we be better? No doubt about it. Can we spend less? For sure. So there’s efficiencies to be gotten, but I think if you’re sick, this is the only country you want to be in on the planet.”