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Ron Werft Speaks About ‘Health Care in the Region’ at CLU Breakfast in Santa Barbara

The Cottage Health System president/CEO discusses increasing costs, the Affordable Care Act and the Covered California exchange

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Cottage Health System President/CEO Ron Werft spoke masterfully Friday on the topic “Health Care in the Region” at California Lutheran University’s Corporate Leaders Breakfast at The Fess Parker Doubletree by Hilton Resort in Santa Barbara.

The Corporate Leaders Breakfast Series brings members of the business and civic communities together to hear from prominent leaders in the region. Hosted five times a year, the events feature guest speakers and panel discussions highlighting issues of interest to the business community.

More than 100 attendees enjoyed breakfast and networking before Cal Lutheran President/CEO Chris Kimball, Ph.D., introduced Werft, the morning’s keynoter.

Werft joined Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital in 1987 as executive vice president and chief operating officer and was promoted in 2000 to president and CEO of Cottage Health System, which now includes three hospitals in Santa Barbara, Goleta and Santa Ynez.

A graduate of the University of California-San Diego, he serves on the boards of United Way of Santa Barbara County, Santa Barbara Partners in Education, Voluntary Hospitals of America West Coast and Santa Barbara Fighting Back. Werft holds a master’s degree in hospital and health care administration from the University of Minnesota.

Many sponsors were represented at the event, including Montecito Bank & Trust, the Sage Center, Wells Fargo Bank, Los Robles Hospital, Bill Kearney Merrill Lynch/Bank of America, Union Bank, Edison International, UCLA Health, Limoneira, Ventura County Credit Union and Sodexo.

In his remarks, Werft noted the dramatic increase in the cost of American health care, which now dominates 17.4 percent of the nation’s gross national product. Half of that $2.6 trillion price tag goes to hospitals and doctors. Currently, 25 percent of the federal government’s budget is spent on subsidized health care such as Medicare. Although spending for medical care is now slightly less from a few years ago, it still averages $8,745 per person annually, which is twice as much as other developing countries.

Werft noted that is partly because of lifestyle choices in the United States, including obesity and the hefty amount of funding that is spent on end-of-life care.

A notable effect on the health-care industry, he said, was the passing of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare that was implemented in March 2010. Its implementation was due in part to the large number of uninsured in the U.S., denials in coverage for pre-existing conditions, and 20 to 30 percent annual increases in health insurance premiums. While citizens are struggling to pay for higher deductibles and paying for a greater share of medical care, wages remain flat, thus increasing the percentage of low- and middle-income families spending on health care.

California is one of a few states that runs its own health insurance exchanges. Werft believes that this in part has slowed insurance premium increases to 14 percent in 2014. However, smaller medical plans have been bought out by larger insurers and some insurers have left the market altogether. The remaining insurers in the local region are Kaiser Permanente, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

Other statistics that he noted were that in 2010, 16 percent of families were uninsured, 50 percent were insured by employers and 19 percent paid out of pocket. The Covered California insurance exchange notes that 26,000 new clients in the region have joined the ranks of the insured since the ACA started. There has also been a reduction in charity and self pay in the emergency room as these patients are now enrolled in Medi-Cal.

Werft said that many challenges remain in American health care, including the high costs of research and development, pharmaceuticals and end-of-life care.

The series will continue with a talk on “Leading a Successful Nonprofit” by Thomas Vozzo, CEO of Homeboy Industries, on March 3 at the Sheraton Agoura Hills and a panel discussion on “The Future of Online Business” on May 5 at Cal Lutheran. For more information, contact Sharon Nelson at [email protected] or 805.493.3150, or visit CalLutheran.edu/clb.

Noozhawk contributing writer Rochelle Rose can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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