Six Wisconsin systems create pact, aim for ACO

Six of the most prominent healthcare systems in Wisconsin have created a new partnership, jumping on the nationwide bandwagon of forming strategic alliances to share information, while remaining independent.

The six systems are Aspirus in Wausau; Aurora Health Care in Milwaukee; Bellin Health in Green Bay; Gundersen Health System in La Crosse; ThedaCare in Appleton; and UW Health in Madison. Together, they comprise 44 hospitals and more than 5,600 physicians, and they provide care to about 90% of the Badger State's population, according to a release announcing the partnership.

Matt Heywood, CEO of Aspirus, said in an interview that the ultimate goal of the non-equity partnership is to migrate toward an accountable care organization. The six health systems already have started offering a commercial health plan with Anthem Blue Cross, available through the federal and private-insurance exchanges. If and when the collaborative becomes an ACO, it will aim for inclusion in more health plans as a low-cost, high-quality provider network.

“We wanted to get together to be able to offer insurance companies and businesses the opportunity to have their (patients) go to our network,” Heywood said. “We are all very culturally similar. We think very similarly of where healthcare is going and what we need to do to be successful.”

Data sharing will be another key element of the relationship, according to officials. Each system uses an Epic Systems Corp. electronic health record system, which will make it easier for patients and doctors to obtain and share medical information, Heywood said.

The network, which will be led by ThedaCare executive vice president Greg Devine, does not yet have an official name. A spokesman for the partnership said a marketing company will be hired to find a brand that “reflects value and meaning.”

Similar alliances have proliferated throughout the industry. Most recently, Bayhealth, Dover, Del., and Peninsula Regional Medical Center, Salisbury, Md., agreed to a deal, as did four critical-access hospitals in New Hampshire. UCSF Medical Center, San Francisco, and John Muir Health, Walnut Creek, Calif., also created a jointly operated company with plans to build a regional ACO.

Follow Bob Herman on Twitter: @MHbherman



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