Bending to pressure from the public and a cross-town rival, the parent corporation of Maine Medical Center in Portland has invited Mercy Hospital to participate in a joint venture with Maine's largest insurer, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maine.
Maine Medical's parent, the Maine Medical Center Foundation, and the Blues plan unveiled their deal in December (Jan. 6, p. 8). They intend to create a new for-profit HMO called Maine Partners Health Plan that would serve the Portland market.
The deal drew instant complaints from Mercy, which feared the foundation would steer patients enrolled in the new HMO exclusively to its own hospitals.
The foundation controls two of Portland's three hospitals. Mercy is the odd hospital out.
During a public hearing on the joint venture plan held by the Maine insurance department, a number of concerned Portland residents said they feared the plan would restrict their choice of hospitals.
"The community controversy about the potential impact of Maine Partners on Mercy Hospital has overshadowed our original intent," said Donald McDowell, president of the Maine Medical Center Foundation. "We hope this proposal will help us move beyond this issue, so we can move forward with the overall managed-care plan."
McDowell also said the business partners are restructuring their plan to make the new HMO a not-for-profit rather than a for-profit company.
Both original partners, as well as Mercy, are not-for-profits, and some viewed the joint venture as a shortcut by the Blues plan to convert into a for-profit insurer.
In a related matter, Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston is sticking to its plan to keep its chief rival out of a similar joint venture HMO with the Blues plan.
A spokeswoman at Central Maine said it has no plans to include St. Mary's Regional Medical Center, also in Lewiston, in its deal despite what Maine Medical did in Portland.
The state insurance department is expected to rule on both proposed HMO applications by early next month.