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Aging West Michigan Population Spells Health Care Troubles Ahead

GRAND RAPIDS -- West Michigan's increasing aging population and decreasing number of young people will likely result in higher age-related health care costs, according to a report from Grand Valley State University researchers.

"Health Check: Analyzing Trends in West Michigan 2013" was released Friday during a health care summit at the Eberhard Center on GVSU's Pew Grand Rapids Campus. The report was compiled by Seidman College of Business professors Sonia Dalmia and Paul Isely; it was made possible by a grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Blue Care Network, and Priority Health.

The fourth annual report studies ongoing trends in Kent, Ottawa, Muskegon and Allegan counties, looking at the job market, medical patents, demographics, health care profiles and economics. The full report is online at; key findings are below.

* There are more people over age 65 in West Michigan than in prime working ages of 35-44. Also, there are more people ages 45-64 than people ages 20-34. Researchers said these two factors are significant as an aging population results in higher health care costs, and there are fewer workers to replace retirees.

* The poverty rate in West Michigan has increased 6.1 percent since 1999 (from 8 percent to 14 percent in 2011).

* Risk factors like heavy drinking, smoking and inadequate physical activity have also increased. Researchers said about 17 percent of the area's population reports having five or more drinks at least once in the previous month; that number is higher than populations in Detroit and the U.S.

* Cancer rates in West Michigan are lower than other areas in Michigan and the U.S., and rates of diabetes are lower but tracking closely with obesity. Researchers said people with asthma increased by 3 percent from 2004 to 2011.

Jean Nagelkerk, vice provost for health at GVSU, said while health-related statistics are similar to last year's findings, the report shows increases in health care jobs and the number of medical patents awarded in West Michigan.

"The information provided in this presentation will help inform health care policy and community decisions about the types of health care professionals, services, costs and delivery systems that best serve the needs of our community," she said.   Nagelkerk added that Health Check 2013 provides a framework to understand the health care needs of West Michigan residents. Jeff Connolly, president of West Michigan operations and managed care for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, agreed.

"We want to help guide this discussion so the public can make the most informed decisions for themselves and their family members," Connolly said.

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