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By Michael W. Cropp

A front-page story in The Buffalo News on Jan. 26 by David Robinson, “Dreams of revival looking like reality,” and the annual “Prospectus” business forecast paint a bright picture for an economic upturn here in Western New York.

It appears the stars are aligning for our region in terms of a solid, workable plan, along with $1 billion in state funding and a new collection of leaders who are all rowing in the same direction. The headline nailed it: “A new Buffalo? This time it’s different.”

A critical piece in moving our economy forward is the ability to transform Western New York into a high-quality, high-performing health care community. This effort may not be as visible or dramatic as construction cranes towering over our skyline, but make no mistake – it is every bit as important.

When you look at the regional or national economy, you recognize there are many costs of doing business. And when you examine statistics on national health care spending, you see how rapidly health care has grown, and the impact it has on local, state and federal budgets and private business.

Health care is the fastest-growing cost of doing business in our nation and region. The ability to control health costs will be among the most important determinants of economic success for a community in the near future, if it isn’t already. Communities that get it “right” are going to have a leg up on other regions of the country.

Lowering the trend of rising health care costs to bring them in line with, or below, the consumer price index can serve as an economic driver for the entire region. This will attract new businesses to Western New York and enable existing employers to add more staff because they are spending less on health benefits and medical care.

Transforming health care is a collective responsibility. By investing in the growth and revitalization of primary care to expand access to more patient-centered care, partnering with physicians and other health providers to improve the coordination of care, offering products and benefits that encourage healthier lifestyle choices and working with business and community stakeholders to create a culture of health, Independent Health is in a unique position to lead the transformation of health care and economic development in our community.

By working to achieve the “triple aim” of better health, better care and lower costs, we can improve the physical and fiscal fitness of our region.

Michael W. Cropp, M.D., is president and CEO of Independent Health and chairman of the board of the Alliance of Community Health Plans, a national organization dedicated to improving the health of the communities each plan serves.