Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Nonprofit Regional Health Plans

As the US health system moves towards the 2014 launching of health exchanges and other components of Obamacare, regional nonprofit health plans are poised to take a distinctively important role.

An article in today's New York Times described the steps Florida Blue, which covers 4 million Floridians - 30 percent of the Florida insurance market - is taking. The  proposal for a "public option" like Medicare for all that would compete with private insurers crashed and burned in the health reform process, but regional nonprofits like Florida Blue are carrying out the function that was envisioned for the public option. Nonprofits can't function without making a margin beyond their expenses, but their structure allows them to be more mission-driven and locally connected than investor-owned plans.

For much of my clinical career I practiced at the nonprofit Harvard Community Health Plan (HCHP) HMO. My late father, who lived in Florida, know how much I respected HCHP, and asked me if he should join an HMO. At that time none of his choices were nonprofits, and I'd read about various scandals in the Florida market. If he'd been living in Massachusetts I would have encouraged him to join HCHP where I and my family got our care, but I advised him against the HMO route in Florida.

Medical care is ultimately local. It works best when clinicians and their organizations are part of the local community. This passage in the article stood out for me:
“Florida Blue has the same problems everyone else has,” said Dr. Michael A. Wasylik, an orthopedic surgeon in Tampa who works with insurers through the Florida Medical Association, but “they have a better trust relationship with doctors.” The local representatives are better able to address doctors’ concerns, he said.
Health reform won't get anywhere without enthusiastic participation from the clinical community. Insurers can facilitate reform, but they can't make it happen. Engagement with the local community, and above all the kind of trust that Dr. Wasylik refers to, are key. If the national for-profit giants can compete successfully with regional nonprofits like Florida Blue, more power to them. But if the narrow margins and need for highly collaborative relationships with the clinical community make Obamacare an undesirable business opportunity, regional nonprofits like Florida Blue will flourish.

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