Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. is talking with UniHealth America about tapping the Southern California-based hospital company's expertise in managed care, executives said.
While Columbia/HCA declined to comment, executives at UniHealth and a corporate affiliate said such discussions have taken place.
Columbia/HCA, the nation's largest hospital corporation, and Burbank, Calif.-based UniHealth America are in talks about a possible joint venture in Florida, confirmed Ross Goldberg, vice president of communications at UniHealth. It would be UniHealth's only current venture outside of California.
If its plans to acquire Healthtrust go through, Columbia/HCA will control 26% of Florida's 217 hospitals (Oct. 10, p. 2).
Although no agreements have been reached, "we are optimistic that we will be able to work together in some way," Mr. Goldberg said.
Mr. Goldberg denied reports that UniHealth and Columbia/HCA were considering a merger.
Columbia/HCA doesn't comment on or acknowledge any discussions regarding its many proposed affiliations until negotiations are final, a spokeswoman said.
In the proposed Florida venture, UniHealth would "help prepare physicians for managed care and help them get ready to get involved in managed care," said Alan Hoops, president and chief executive officer of PacifiCare Health Systems, which is 40% owned by UniHealth and potentially could be involved in such a venture.
That might involve establishing medical groups or physician-hospital organizations, he said.
Although giant Columbia/HCA "has a strong base throughout the nation," UniHealth has the experience with managed care, in which "doctors need to learn new rules to the game." Columbia/HCA and UniHealth working together "certainly has potential beyond Florida," Mr. Goldberg said.
Besides its stake in PacifiCare, not-for-profit UniHealth owns 10 hospitals, has affiliations with six medical groups and owns Chatsworth, Calif.-based CareAmerica Health Plans, a for-profit HMO. UniHealth had $1.4 billion in revenues in fiscal 1994, ended Sept. 30. Total net income wasn't available.
The proposed Florida joint venture "provides an opportunity that we (PacifiCare and Columbia/HCA) may be able to work together," Mr. Hoops said. He gave no details.
One thing PacifiCare would get out of the deal is help from Columbia/HCA in entering markets, said an industry source who wished to remain unidentified.
PacifiCare is not in on the talks between UniHealth and Columbia/HCA, Mr. Hoops said. "If we can get together, great. If not, no harm done," he said.
Florida is one of the states PacifiCare has targeted for expansion. Last month it acquired Pasteur Health Plan, an HMO based in Miami with 50,000 enrollees. Last December it acquired Coral Gables-based Advantage Health Plan, now called PacifiCare of Florida, which has 25,000 enrollees.
PacifiCare also has commercial HMOs in Texas and Washington state.
Its Secure Horizons Medicare plan operates in California, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Oregon and Texas.
PacifiCare posted record results for the year ended Sept. 30. Net income rose 35% to $84.6 million, compared with $62.7 million last year. Operating revenues rose 30% to $2.9 billion.