Partnering accelerates better health

To some of my physician colleagues, health insurers are the enemy. But like many other doctors, I have discovered through my own medical practice that these companies can be valuable partners in helping improve the health of my patients.  Although conventional wisdom may suggest that doctors like me would oppose mergers in the insurance industry, years of experience as both a physician and an industry leader cause me to support the proposed merger between Cigna and Anthem.

I serve as chairman of the Board of Renaissance Physician Organization (RPO), a group of approximately 2,000 Texas physicians committed to delivering better care through stronger patient-physician relationships. For over a decade, we have worked with some national insurers on collaborative efforts to ensure that patient care is well coordinated, evidence-based, and effective.  Our partnership has led to higher rates of preventive care, better management of chronic disease, and more positive health outcomes for patients. 

Insurers like Cigna help physicians like us deliver high-quality and affordable care by supporting us with data, analytical insights and clinical infrastructure. Their efforts have helped RPO to become a national leader in patient-centered care, as we have worked to develop new payment-for-quality models.

If we can accelerate the switch to this model of practice, it could have enormous benefits to society.  As the nation ages and budgets tighten, we need to improve quality and reduce costs in the health care system – and Cigna has been at the forefront of advancing changes to the system that will enhance affordability.

For example, Cigna’s HealthSpring subsidiary – in complementary locations across the country – partners with physicians to transition to alternative payment models. Almost two-thirds of Cigna-HealthSpring’s members in HMOs receive care through physicians who are incentivized to deliver better outcomes and higher patient satisfaction.  Moreover, Cigna Collaborative Care is a value-based initiative that incentivizes health care professionals and helps drive improved health, affordability and patient experience.  Results have been promising, with measurably lower costs and better outcomes – including 50% fewer emergency room visits compared to market.

Initiatives like these are a great start, and the merger with Anthem will allow the combined insurer to roll out the collaborative model pioneered by Cigna to a much larger and more diverse base of patients and providers.  That’s why, like many physicians who support change in health care delivery, I am in favor of this merger.

Together, Cigna and Anthem can make physicians’ jobs easier through more efficient operations and better tools to keep patients healthier, including helping us to adopt the best approaches to wellness and chronic illness management.  By combining the complementary Cigna and Anthem networks, more providers – and therefore more patients – will be able to take advantage of these emerging and innovative models. 

I understand that some large industry groups oppose the Cigna/Anthem combination.  But as a doctor responsible for the health of many patients, I know that both patients and physicians stand to lose if this transaction is blocked.  Physicians at RPO work in urban, suburban and rural areas, and they serve both privileged and under-served populations across a variety of practice areas.  My experience leading them shows definitively that, from the standpoint of increasing health and maximizing the value of care, the results from this transaction will be positive.

The high cost of health care imposes an enormous burden on all Americans.  My practice embraces the need for change and believes physician leadership is essential to the successful evolution of health care in a patient-focused delivery system.  With its emphasis on proactively connecting patients to the care they need, I can state unequivocally that Cigna has been a critical partner in this transformation.

By joining forces, Cigna and Anthem can help usher in the broader usage of value-based payments that reward physicians for the comprehensive value they provide to patients.  Accordingly, I encourage regulators to approve the Cigna/Anthem transaction as the necessary next step in accelerating the shift from high-volume sick care to high-value health care.

Bertini is a practicing physician and chairman of the Board of Renaissance Physician Organization, an independent physician association made up of approximately 2,000 doctors in Southeast Texas.