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Three upstate NY regions have low Medicare costs

Parts of upstate New York are spending less on Medicare than other regions of the U.S., according to a recent report by the Institute of Medicine.

The study analyzed health care spending, utilization and quality in more than 300 cities nationwide. Three upstate New York cities ranked among the lowest 20 spenders. Syracuse ranked 19th, while Buffalo ranked fourth. Rochester was found to have the lowest Medicare spending in the country. Its costs per beneficiary was $174 a month lower than the study's median.

Dr. Jamie Kerr, a chief medical officer with upstate insurer Excellus BlueCross BlueShield says the report shows that spending less money per Medicare patient does not mean that patient received poorer health care. In fact, sometimes it's the opposite.

"There was no evidence in the report on the measurements they looked at that the higher cost regions- the higher spend regions- were associated with a higher quality of care," Kerr said.

If a patient doesn't get quality and appropriate treatment in the first place, it can lead to repeat hospital and physician visits which cost more.

Dr. Marybeth McCall, also a chief medical officer with Excellus, says collaboration is the key to why costs turned out to be lower in the Syracuse area. She says doctors, hospitals and insurers work together central and northern New York to develop practices and incentives to try to bring down costs.

"I think it's because we do things together," McCall said. "We know each other. We're also pretty transparent. Nothing really goes on without everybody learning about it and making sure it's the right thing. I think it's just a community looking out for each other and for our patients."

Kerr says the report shows understanding geographic differences is also a key part to the nation's health care puzzle.

"Care is predominantly local, in that there are local initiatives that impact access to services, the quality of the services that our patients receive and the use of those services," Kerr said.

Both McCall and Kerr noted that these upstate New York regions came in with lower medicare costs despite having large rural areas, often thought to increase medical costs per patient.

Binghamton and Elmira, located in the Southern Tier, also were found by the Institute of Medicine to have low per-patient costs. The two cities came in with the 25th and 26th lowest Medicare costs, respectively.