Medical expert urges cheaper health care for local families

The executive director for Camden Coalition of Health Care Providers, Jeffrey Brenner, is going after the “1 percent” of the health care industry.

Brenner discussed the spending issues of hospitals and medical specialists as well as his plan to solve this problem in Camden yesterday at the University Institute of Health Care policy and Aging Research in downtown New Brunswick.

“If you draw a circle around hospitals, they are the unit of accountability,” he said.

Brenner said in New Jersey, the health care system is designed where family practitioners refer their patients to specialists for virtually any condition.

He said these specialists are expensive and in no hurry to change the system because they belong to the highest paid percentage of the health care industry.

“They’re the ‘1 percent,’” he said. “The impact of that over time is ... you end up dumbing down family care.”

Brenner said in other states, the family practitioner handles most cases, while in New Jersey these cases are handled by specialists.

He said the unnecessary high cost and inefficient use of medical resources led to the current state of the health care system.

In Camden hospitals, Brenner found emergency rooms were overcrowded, an unnecessary condition which sent the cost of treatment to increase.

The CCHCP collected data indicating that roughly half of Camden’s population went to the emergency in a one-year period. The most common diagnoses for these visits were head colds, sore throats and other minor conditions, according to the CCHCP website.

Meanwhile, patients with serious and complex conditions spent large amounts of time and money — up to $4 million — visiting various specialists, Brenner said.

Thirteen percent of the patients who visited health care centers in Camden accounted for 80 percent of all medical costs from the past five year, according to the CCHCP website.

Brenner said he came up with a solution to this, which the CCHCP is undertaking in Camden, but needed help from politicians.

“This was the most painful thing I’ve ever done,” Brenner said. “Going to Medicaid didn’t work, so I went to [state] legislatures instead.”

Brenner said his persistence paid off and with the help of a federally employed lobbyist, he earned a grant sufficient to support his health care model.

Under his model, patients with minor conditions are sent to an in-house primary care physician, while emergencies are reserved for specialists. Brenner said all the components in Camden’s health care system, including providers and patients, must pool their resources to create one transparent system.

“It’s a political challenge,” Brenner said. “Doctors are used to cranking expenses.”

Some of Brenner’s colleagues in the health care industry at the University said they are impressed with his efforts.

“I had not realized how far he had gone in advancing this coalition,” said Frank Thompson, a professor in the School of Public Affairs and Administration at Rutgers-Newark. “[Brenner is] working with these folks who cost the system a huge amount.”

Thompson said Brenner is getting financial support from stakeholders and is proving to be an effective plan overall.

“It’s so sick,” he said. “The care is so uncoordinated.”

Sujoy Chakravarty, an assistant research professor at the Center for State Health Policy, said the plan has potential.

“I think a part of [what I like] is [him] coming up with something actionable and trying to identify what the cost-drivers are,” he said.

Thompson said he thinks Brenner cut enough costs that are well-known enough for the federal government to provide further financial support for the CCHCP’s initiative.

“I think there’s a good chance this is going to work in terms of him being able to show the cost savings,” Thompson said. “He’s an extraordinary leader.”

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