February 2015: Economically Speaking

Make sense of health care reform

Columnist, Brian Marcolini

Columnist, Brian Marcolini

Health care reform comes in many different shapes and sizes. More than ever before, individuals are debating how to transform, what programs to be part of and with whom to partner. Nationally, people debate all varieties of reform, when in reality there are pros and cons to each option.

So who is right? That’s the challenge, no one answer will work for all systems. Health care systems are prepared to take on differing levels of transformation and collaboration.

In the north country, the partners of North Country Initiative and Health Care Partners of the North Country are poised and prepared to take on what appears to be exciting times in health care while preparing this region’s health care system for the future.

One simple question is routinely asked when determining the direction of reform in the north country: What is best for the patient?

With this single question guiding the direction and holding the organization to the mission, the North Country Initiative and Health Care Partners are taking the difficult strides toward lasting health care reform. Additionally, decisions are also being made to create sustainability through collaboration so that our providers, health care systems and community support systems are in place for our patients in the future. The path isn’t always clear or smooth, but meeting the needs of patients will remain the top priority as we develop a sustainable system and meet the challenges that face the business of health care.

At this point you are asking yourself “how is this organization becoming part of the solution?” Like any topic that addresses the business of health care there are multiple answers and complexities.

One initiative is the formation of an Accountable Care Organization. Accountable Care Organizations are partnerships between doctors, hospitals and other health care providers designed to work together to provide higher-quality coordinated care to their patients, while helping to slow the growth in health care costs. Health Care Partners of the North Country will be one of 405 Accountable Care Organizations participating in a shared savings program.

Health Care Partners of the North Country is presently a collaboration of five hospitals and six independent offices. Partners include: Carthage Area Hospital, Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center, Clifton-Fine Hospital, River Hospital and Samaritan Medical Center. Joining these five hospitals are Family Medicine of Carthage, Internal Medicine of NNY, Lowville Medical Associates, Watertown Internists, Howard T. Meny Family Practice and Edward Reason Internal Medicine.

Accountable Care Organizations were created around the principle of holding a group of individuals responsible for the care their patients receive and to be held accountable for monitoring the cost of that care. Accountable Care Organizations receive a portion of the Medicare savings generated from lowering the growth in health care costs when they meet standards for high quality care. They can share in any savings they generate for Medicare if they meet specified quality targets.

“Health Care Partners of the North Country will be joining a program that is one part of this administration’s vision for improving the coordination and integration of care received by Medicare beneficiaries,” said Sean Cavanaugh, deputy administrator and director for the Center for Medicare.

Earlier I mentioned the one question that is always asked: “What is best for the patient?”

That’s answered simply with the stated goals of Health Care Partners of the North Country. Patients can expect improved communication, shared health care decisions, coordinated care, improved outcomes and, most important, the enhanced confidence that comes from knowing your health care provider is part of a team and a collaboration that is being held to provide high-quality affordable care.

Brian Marcolini is director of the North Country Initiative and Health Care Partners of the North Country at the Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization. Contact him at bmarcolini@fdrhpo.org.