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Health care costs rise
DARLINGTON - Both Monroe Clinic and Memorial Hospital of Lafayette County announced this month upcoming price increases for service in 2017.

Monroe Clinic's price increases, which will take effect Jan. 1, range from a 3.9 percent rise to a 9.2 percent rise for various services.

The Lafayette County hospital, however, will implement a blanket 5 percent increase to take effect Jan. 18.

Representatives for both hospitals said the rising costs were primarily tied to the increasing costs of operation for medical facilities.

The increases at Memorial Hospital will affect all elements of the hospital's prices, from surgery, to imaging, to general classification.

Julie Chikowski, administrator for Memorial Hospital of Lafayette County, said the cost of pharmaceuticals alone is expected to increase by 7 percent next year.

"Pharmaceutical research and development is the biggest driver of the cost increase for medications," Chikowski said. "So they definitely try to offset the costs to us."

Patricia Lawson, director of marketing and business development for Monroe Clinic, said the clinic's increases were based on a cost analysis of which services require the most resources to run. For example, the cost of an emergency room visit increased by 9.2 percent from $641 to $700, while the newborn room rate increased by 3.9 percent.

"The emergency department is more costly because it's running 24/7," Lawson said.

The average price increase for the clinic is about 4.5 percent, a number Lawson said was average for hospitals in the region. Chikowski agreed, adding that Memorial Hospital last raised its prices in January of this year, to the tune of 5.05 percent.

Monroe Clinic increased its rates in January by an average of 4.4 percent.

By comparison, Aurora Health Care, Wisconsin's largest health care system, announced a 4.5 percent cost increase for next year in November.

"We've done a price increase on an annual basis for the last four years at least," Chikowski said, adding that most commercial insurance contracts allow for price changes of approximately 5 percent or less without requiring a renegotiated contract.

Lawson said a cost increase baseline of about 4 percent was necessary to not only cover the rising costs of equipment and pharmaceuticals but also to support staff wages and cover shortfalls in Medicare and Medicaid coverage.

The most significant change to Memorial Hospital prices is the cost of heart attack treatment, which will rise to $1,947.75 next year from this year's cost of $1,855, an increase of $92.75. The cost increase for other services is less significant, with a $68.50 increase to surgery and general classification costs and increases of less than $30 for other services.

At Monroe Clinic, the 4 percent increase to intensive care fees will lead to the largest increase of $110. Intermediate care fees will increase by $72, ER visits will increase by $59 and other services will see increases of $50 or less.

Chikowski said the hospitals' price increases are small compared to those at competing hospitals and that the Lafayette County hospital is working on ways to make up for the shortfall between the price increases and its own larger operating cost increases.

"We're definitely trying to increase our own business, and we're looking at ways to eliminate waste and increase efficiency in our work," Chikowski said. "We want the best possible quality for our patient care, but the infrastructure for that costs money."