UIHC announces statewide health care alliance

BY JOE HITCHON | JUNE 29, 2012 6:30 AM

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In an effort to improve access to health care, the quality of patient care, and reduce the rising cost of health care for Iowans, a first-of-its-kind alliance was announced on Thursday among four of Iowa's largest health-care organizations.

The University of Iowa Health Alliance includes more than 50 hospitals and more than 160 clinics in the state. The four founding members of the alliance — the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, Mercy Health Network, Mercy Medical Center-Cedar Rapids, and Genesis Health System — made the announcement in a statewide press conference at the UIHC and several other Iowa locations simultaneously.

The announcement came against the backdrop of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling earlier Thursday morning that upheld President Obama's Affordable Care Act, a health-care law requiring people to carry health insurance or pay a penalty to the IRS.

While representatives of the alliance said there was no direct link between the ruling and the timing of the announcement of the health-care partnership, they acknowledged that it signals a clear effort around the country — and in the state — to improve access to health care for all Americans.

"No one knew exactly what was going to happen with the Supreme Court decision today, but market forces out there are compelling health-care organizations to change the way they operate," said Douglas Cropper, the president and CEO of Genesis.

Cropper said the alliance is a response to these forces.

Jean Robillard, the UI vice president for Medical Affairs, said almost all health-care systems in the country have made changes over the last few years, and the Supreme Court decision will only accelerate trends that support the efforts of the alliance to reduce costs and improve access to health care.

"The goal of this alliance is really to improve the health of every Iowan and every community in Iowa as much as we can," he said.

Another goal of the alliance is to strengthen primary care so Iowans have access to a "medical home" that will increase patient safety through the more efficient and better organized coordination of patient care and medical records among hospitals.

The alliance also aims to develop many integrated programs that will determine the health status of communities, educate patients and providers, and offer systems for improved patient engagement in the their treatments. The partners will also share the cost of information systems and experts, share expertise and costs associated with development of care initiatives, as well as collaborate on research.

While the representatives touted the alliance as a milestone in Iowa health care, they made it clear that the organizations would remain autonomous beyond cooperating on patient services and upgrading information systems.

While it's still too early to know all of the implications of the Affordable Care Act and the alliance on patient care in Iowa, Tim Charles, the president and CEO of Mercy-Cedar Rapids, said the message was loud and clear that new models had to be developed to improve the quality of care and drive down the cost in the state.

"As health-care providers, we can now collectively begin to deliver these health-care services to the state and its citizens in a much more cost-effective manner," he said.

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