As a family practice physician, I see a wide range of patients from all walks of life. I am privileged to count among my patients a number of people who operate small businesses. As a group, they are talented, hard-working and committed. They have to be. Otherwise, they wouldn’t succeed.
One thing these small-business people all understand is competition. They understand that competition forces all participants in the marketplace to focus on continually improving the products and services they offer. They understand that competition is fundamental to our free-market economy.
I am a physician, not a business person, but I do appreciate the merits of competition. And I do understand that this needs to be an important part of the debate over a new medical center to serve western Waukesha County. The truth is this simple: When health care providers compete for your business, the result is better care and better service.
The physicians and staff of Wilkinson Medical Clinic and Aurora Health Care have proposed to build a beautiful new medical center on a site within Pabst Farms in the Town of Summit. The project will include a new and larger Wilkinson clinic to replace the old building in Oconomowoc, which we long ago outgrew. The clinic will be closely integrated into a state-of-the-art community hospital featuring the latest technology for diagnosis and treatment, along with a new patient-centered model of care that is unlike anything that now exists in Waukesha County.
Most important, the new medical center will provide an option for care where no option now exists. While eastern Waukesha County offers a number of choices in hospital care, there is only one hospital in the fast-growing communities of western Waukesha County. The new Aurora Medical Center will introduce competition – and that’s a good thing.
Some critics call it "duplication of services," an odd argument that’s never made when someone proposes to establish a bank in a community that already has a bank – or a supermarket, or restaurant or department store.
Other critics maintain that costs will rise when a second hospital begins serving the communities of western Waukesha County. They argue that the same number of patients will need to be shared among two hospitals, driving up overhead costs. This argument ignores a sad truth that my physician colleagues and I know well: Many of our patients now leave the area when they need hospital care. The latest state data shows that 57 percent of the residents of western Waukesha County travel out of the area when they need to be hospitalized. That’s just not right.
A new hospital will give people a new reason to stay in the area for care. This, coupled with the rapid population growth in our communities, to be fueled in part by the development of Pabst Farms over the next few years, will mean there is more than enough patient volume to support two community hospitals. The growing number of older residents in our communities also will increase the demand for inpatient care.
We’re in the midst of a crisis in health care costs. The insurance premium increases we’ve been seeing are unsustainable. I hear that most clearly from the small-business operators who are among my patients. As we announced plans for the new medical center, Aurora thought it was important to address cost concerns up front – by pledging to establish prices at the new hospital at levels consistent with prices at other hospitals in the county, and thereafter to hold any price increases below the medical consumer price index. In other words, patients and employers will receive a new option for care at a price that is no different from what they are paying elsewhere.
And, of course, competition acts as a check on spiraling costs. Being competitive means providing care in the most cost-effective manner.
Again, I’m a doctor, not a business person or a health care economist. But I don’t need an advanced degree in economics to understand the benefits of competition. And I know that we are seldom best-served by monopolies.
I was born and raised in the Town of Summit, and that’s where I’m raising my children. For my family, my neighbors and my patients, I want to ensure a strong and vibrant system of health care services, today and long into the future.
Competition? It’s only healthy.
Kristin Simons, M.D., is a family practitioner with Aurora Health Care’s Wilkinson Medical Clinic in Oconomowoc.
April 11, 2004 Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI