By Cheryl Powell
Beacon Journal medical writer
Four of Ohio’s largest hospital systems are working together to try to capture an even bigger piece of the state’s changing health-care market.
The initiative — Health Innovations Ohio — joins Akron’s Summa Health System with University Hospitals in Cleveland, Mount Carmel Health System in Columbus and Cincinnati-based Catholic Health Partners.
Through Health Innovations Ohio, the partners remain independent but are focusing initially on developing programs for senior health, Medicaid managed care and employee health benefits, said Thomas J. Strauss, Summa’s president and chief executive.
The partnership is separate from a $250 million deal that will give Catholic Health Partners a minority ownership stake in Summa once finalized.
“Four different organizations are coming together to improve the health of the population in the state of Ohio,” Strauss said. “We do believe it can be transformational. I believe that we’re all focused on the same philosophies — that being the idea that health care is broken. We have to move to a focus on population health.”
Collectively, the four health systems operate 24 hospitals across the state, employing more than 70,000 people and account for more than 22 percent of all hospital stays in Ohio.
By working together, the health systems can “share best practices across a broad geography,” said Thomas F. Zenty III, University Hospitals’ (UH) president and chief executive. “… We think that collectively we have a wonderful opportunity to make an impact on the health care of the state of Ohio.”
Though the partnership officially was announced on Wednesday, the founding partners have been meeting and making plans since quietly launching Health Innovations Ohio last year.
The collaborative effort is headquartered in Lima and led by President and Chief Executive Jim Reber, former head of St. Rita’s Medical Center, a Catholic Health Partners’ hospital.
The partners share Health Innovations Ohio’s costs and have equal representation on a governing board of directors.
Through the group’s first project, the four hospital systems are now the primary hospital providers within Medicare managed-care plans run by Summa (SummaCare) and Mount Carmel (MediGold).
Medicare managed-care plans, also known as Medicare Advantage plans, are optional insurance coverage for people covered by Medicare, the federal insurance program for people ages 65 or older and some younger disabled Americans.
The next venture likely will be a joint bid to contract with a Medicaid managed-care insurance company in Ohio, Reber said.
The state contracts with five Medicaid managed-care organizations to provide health benefits to people in exchange for a monthly payment.
If Ohio eventually opts to expand Medicaid eligibility as permitted under federal health-care reform, the number of residents covered by the program could grow substantially from the current 2.3 million.
Health Innovations Ohio’s contract with a yet-to-be-named insurer will include provisions for “aligning incentives through pay-for-performance and shared-savings contracts,” according to the partners.
“We think there is an opportunity for us to make it easier for contracting on a statewide basis,” Zenty said.
The four participating hospital systems also are sharing information about successful strategies they have used to lower their own medical costs by making their employees healthier, Reber said. Areas of focus include weight loss initiatives and diabetes management programs.
Hospitals nationwide increasingly are forging partnerships with looming changes from federal health-care reform and payments that don’t always cover costs.
Summa’s cross-town rival, Akron General Health System, recently announced that it has reached a tentative deal to sell the health system’s assets to a joint venture between national hospital chain Community Health Systems and the Cleveland Clinic, UH’s top competitor.
The Cleveland Clinic also is pursuing an affiliation with ProMedica, a Toledo-based health system that has 11 hospitals in Northwest Ohio and eastern Michigan and a health insurance plan, Paramount.
With Health Innovations Ohio, “we have organizations that are good, strong organizations that are committed to remaining independent,” Reber said. “But they also see advantages in sharing and collaborating.”
Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Powell on Twitter at twitter.com/abjcherylpowell.