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Could Wisconsin’s New Statewide Collaboration Be Revolutionary?

August 13, 2014
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The announcement last week of a statewide collaboration in Wisconsin could be potentially game-changing

It was fascinating last week to hear about a new statewide strategic alliance now moving forward in Wisconsin. As someone who grew up in Wisconsin and who has continued to follow developments in that state, years after leaving it as a resident, I can say that one of the elements in the history and public culture of Wisconsin that makes it so interesting is its long history as a center of innovation and incubation.

And now, as an Aug. 6 press release from the University of Wisconsin Health has made clear, six integrated health systems—UW Health, Aspirus (Wausau), Aurora Health care (Milwaukee), Bellin Health (Green Bay), Gundersen Health System (La Crosse), and ThedaCare (Appleton), have joined together in an exciting initiative. As the press release announced, “Six Wisconsin healthcare organizations announced a pioneering statewide network. Framing their strategic partnership as a new pathway for patients to access the highest quality healthcare across the state and region, the organizations expect the network to serve as a new model for the nation.”

As the press release further notes, “All six organizations are recognized leaders for delivering some of the highest-quality, lowest-cost care in the state. Collectively, the six organizations rank three percentage points higher than peer Wisconsin health care organizations on quality measures, and are nine points more efficient according to BSG Analytics (publisher of HC Trends), a Wisconsin health care consulting and data analytics company that works with employers, payers and health systems.” What’s more, the press release reports, “Together, the organizations' service areas provide access to health care for about 90 percent of Wisconsin's population. They also serve people in neighboring Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and Minnesota. Each organization in the partnership uses the same technology for electronic medical records, making it easier for patients to access their records and share with doctors in the network.”

The release also notes that “An initial commercial insurance plan featuring the six organizations is being offered through Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield's Blue Priority network. The Blue Priority is available now through insurance brokers, the federal Health Insurance Marketplace at and private health insurance exchanges.” And it quotes Greg Devine, president and CEO of the partnership, as saying, "Our vision is to use our collective resources wisely by being good stewards of the clinical, administrative, IT, research, patient experience, care management and other shared expertise within our six systems. We want to provide better value in health care."

So here’s the thing: there is the potential for a truly revolutionary development here. To begin with, as the Aug. 6 announcement notes, these integrated systems in some way care for 90 percent of the residents of Wisconsin; that in itself is powerful. What’s more, these organizations are among the most innovative and progressive integrated health systems in the Midwest. And the combination of their innovative cultures and their dominant market share, could be quite impactful. That is particularly so, given that a health insurance product is being developed via the state’s Blues plan, with potentially statewide coverage.

So when you put everything together—advanced clinical data-sharing, patient engagement, a statewide health plan element, and the potential for the greater formalization of all this (mostly like in the form of a statewide private-market accountable care organization)—you have a potentially game-changing scenario in U.S. healthcare.

The degree to which this new statewide collaboration will succeed can of course only be known over time, and so much will depend on the combination of strong vision and leadership, and on excellent execution. But I would absolutely keep my eyes on this new, unnamed Wisconsin partnership venture as a phenomenon to watch closely going forward. Above all, I wouldn’t for a moment underestimate these Wisconsin healthcare leaders: what they’re seeing could become the future of healthcare in the U.S.