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Health care highlights from the week

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Some news from the world of health care this week:

The numbers of Americans without health insurance continues to drop, according to the latest Gallup Poll. Kaiser Health News reports that nationwide, the number of uninsured Americans dropped from 18 percent in September 2013, to 13.4 percent in June 2014.

The states that expanded Medicaid and established their own health insurance marketplaces saw their uninsured rates drop nearly twice as much as states that did not do so.

Arkansas saw the biggest drop in its uninsured rate, from 22 percent to 12 percent. Significant declines also were seen in Kentucky, Delaware and Colorado.

But not every state that expanded Medicaid saw big drops in the percentage of uninsured. Massachusetts and Hawaii saw declines of less than 1 percentage point, for example. Gallup’s Dan Witters said that’s because those states already had very low uninsured rates prior to the Affordable Care Act.  California, which established its own exchange and expanded its Medicaid program but has a higher number of uninsured than any other state, saw a decrease of 5.3 percentage points in its uninsured rate, according to the survey.

It’s hard to believe that there was a time when almost half of the nation’s elderly lacked access to health care, but that was before the enactment of Medicare 49 years ago last week. Medicare and Medicaid were signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 30, 1965. While more than half of seniors lacked health insurance before the programs were enacted, today nearly 115 million Americans have access to care because of the programs.

Most of those who received hospital care through Medicare back in its early years would barely recognize the hospitals of today. Organic vegetables prepared by a chef? Rocking chairs on the front porch? A spa? Is it a hotel or could it be…a hospital?

Some of the nation’s newest hospitals are taking a cue from the hospitality industry and adding warm and cozy touches aimed at both patients and visitors. South Carolina’s newest hospital, Baptist Parkridge, offers its guests fruit-infused water in the lobby and places relaxation-inducing lavender on patients’ pillows at night. The hospital entrance, complete with rocking chairs, is called “the front porch.” Instead of a waiting room, there’s “the family room.” A spa is under construction on the site.

St. Luke’s Hospital in Easton, Pa., has its own five-acre organic farm and employs a full-time farmer to raise vegetables to fill the plates in the hospital cafeteria and patients’ dinner trays.

The Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital in Michigan even hired a former Ritz-Carlton executive as its chief executive officer. The hospital includes a hair salon, a wellness shop and around-the-clock room service.

Why all the bells and whistles?

Many experts believe designing a beautiful hospital is also better for business.

“Hospitals want to increase the percentage of patients that have good health insurance. That helps in their overall balance sheet,” David Allison, director of graduate studies for Clemson University’s Architecture + Health program. said. “(Patients) have the choice. They’re more informed consumers and so hospitals are competing to capture those patients.”

And what about the costs? “There’s an interesting debate here,” said John Romley, an economist at the University of Southern California. “First of all, naturally, everyone is concerned about costs. That is a very legitimate concern. There is a question here of what’s the value of this to patients. If patients care about it, should we respect that preference to some degree?”

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Susan Rupe is assistant editor for InsuranceNewsNet. She formerly served as communications director for an insurance agents' association and was an award-winning newspaper reporter and editor. Connect with Susan →

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