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Friday, July 16, 2010

NH health initiative to have a local flavor

Telegraph Editorial

There is nothing particularly new about states looking for innovative ways to deliver better health care to their residents at lower costs – that has been going on for years and even as Congress struggled to pass its own landmark health care reform legislation earlier this year.

In Colorado, Gov. Bill Ritter signed nine health-related bills into law this session, including one that provides state-backed incentives for health care professionals to practice in rural parts of the state.

In Maryland, Gov. Martin O’Malley put his stamp of approval on a bill that encourages physicians to spend more time with their patients and to better coordinate their access to the entire health care system. Advocates of the pilot program hope to involve as many as 200 primary care doctors and 200,000 patients.

And in Wyoming, Gov. Dave Freudenthal signed a bill into law that creates a pilot program aimed at providing improved care to the uninsured. Under the program, 500 qualified participants will be given access to personal health accounts funded by roughly $800,000 in tobacco settlement money.

Now you can add New Hampshire to the list.

On Thursday, Gov. John Lynch announced the creation of the state’s own pilot program, a five-year initiative intended to address access, cost and quality in the administration of health care services to New Hampshire residents.

The program has the support of the New Hampshire Citizens Health Initiative, health care providers and representatives of the state’s health insurance industry. All worked together to develop what is officially called the Accountable Care Organization Pilot Program.

And the Nashua-based Southern New Hampshire Medical Center is one of the health care providers that volunteered to participate in this initiative.

“We aren’t going to lower health care costs by 10 percent,” said David Cawley, vice president of administration at the medical center. “But if we can start tracking at 4 percent, we will have made incredible progress.”

During the next five years, the medical center will work with four other groups across the state – each known as an “accountable care organization” – to develop a new model of service that is less expensive to operate and more in tune with meeting the day-to-day health care needs of consumers.

The medical center is being joined in this effort by Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth-Hitchcock in Keene, Exeter Health Resources, a Central New Hampshire Health Partnership, and a North Country initiative that consists of two hospitals, a community center and a hospice.

At the heart of this new approach is moving away from a fee-for-service model that encourages health care providers to see as many patients as possible and replacing it with one where they spend more time with their patients in an effort to keep them healthy.

That means these so-called accountable care organizations will be responsible for making sure these patients have access to a broad range of services within the region.

Participants intend to organize quickly so they can apply for federal incentive grants that will become available next year under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that President Barack Obama signed into law March 23.

To say much is riding on this new initiative would be an understatement. The average family health insurance premium in the state is already among the highest in the country – $12,686 in 2006 – and per capita spending on health care is projected to jump 70 percent over the next 10 years, from $6,456 to $11,043.

We’re not naive enough to believe this initiative alone is going to halt the spiraling cost of health care.

But it’s nice to know that New Hampshire is among the states in the forefront of trying to find innovative ways to help bring it under control.