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It Takes a City: Healthcare Partnership in Cincinnati Offers Solution to Rising Medical Costs

The U.S. spends nearly a fifth of its GDP on healthcare, more than any other developed nation. Chronic disease, aging population, childhood obesity and other causes put the system under severe pressure and threaten America’s ability to compete on global markets.

GE, like most U.S. employers, is in the same boat. The company’s U.S. employee benefit programs support more than 500,000 workers, their spouses and children, and retirees. With GE’s U.S. healthcare costs at more than $2 billion annually, company executives realized they needed solutions to manage the growth.

One focused on changes at the community level. They started in Cincinnati, Ohio, the base of GE Aviation and home for thousands of GE workers. The broad plan included a coalition of large employers, hospitals, insurers, city government and patients. They would be working together to improve healthcare quality in the city, expand access to care and lower costs over the long run.

“If we don’t take accountability ourselves for figuring this out, we’re part of the problem,” Sue Siegel, CEO of GE Ventures, told The New York Times. “We have to be involved in the solution. We can’t just wait for someone to tell us that it is going to be fixed.”

Starting in February 2010, the partners zeroed in on five areas: primary care, information technology, quality improvement, consumer engagement, and payment innovation. They began collecting metrics like healthcare improvement, outcomes and costs, and tracking goals for the metropolitan area’s 2.2 million residents.

At the same time, the local community invested in primary care, digital records, and customer engagement through websites like yourhealthmatters.org to improve healthcare efficiency and generate better value.

The power of this partnership in Cincinnati can be seen in the results that are coming in, and they encouraging (see report). Cincinnati has become one of the nation’s most medically wired communities. The U.S. government selected the city to participate in the prestigious Comprehensive Primary Care (CPC) initiative organized by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation. This project alone has the potential to bring $100 million in incentive payments to primary care doctors who improve the coordination of care for their patients.

An analysis of GE’s own medical claims data is also beginning to show gains from such coordinated care. An innovative healthcare model, called Investment in Patient-Centered Medical Homes, helps primary care physicians coordinate treatment for their patients. It has reduced ER visits and hospital admissions. Similarly, quality improvement efforts focused on pediatric asthma and diabetes are beginning to show fewer complications and hospital admissions, and better care. “Early results are promising: patients enrolled in medical homes had 3.5 percent fewer visits to the emergency room and 14 percent fewer hospital admissions over the four years from 2008 through 2012,” the Times story said.

The early results were strong enough that GE expanded its community-level efforts to two additional cities in 2012—Erie, Pennsylvania, and Louisville, Kentucky. The company has also partnered with the Clinton Foundation’s new Health Matters Initiative to help build healthy communities nationally.

“Health is an investment we must protect and that means we all have to do things differently,” said Siegel. “Collaborations like this one in Ohio are important to driving sustainable transformation that yields better health and healthcare value for our businesses, our employees, their families and communities.”

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