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Updated 10:00 AM February 19, 2007
 

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BCBSM and UMHS launch Michigan HealthQuarters

A joint venture between the University and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan has been formed and will take on the MHealthy: Focus on Diabetes program as its first project.

The new organization, which will be dedicated to improving the quality of the state's health care system and transforming the way patient care is delivered in the state and beyond, is called Michigan HealthQuarters LLC.

In recent weeks, the organization held the first meeting of its board of managers, launched a national search for its first executive director, and chose the first project that it will undertake: evaluating if lower prescription drug co-payments for people with diabetes can improve the processes and outcomes of diabetes care.

The rapid series of events follows the University's sale of its M-CARE health plan to BCBSM and its HMO subsidiary, Blue Care Network, which was finalized on Dec. 31, 2006. The sale terms included creation of a separate joint venture aimed at improving the quality, safety, efficiency and appropriateness of health care in Michigan. BCBSM has committed up to $10 million to fund Michigan HealthQuarters, and the U-M Health System (UMHS) and BCBSM are equal partners in the venture.

MHQ's board, which includes four members from each of the founding organizations, is chaired by Kevin Seitz, executive vice president of Health Care Value Enhancement for BCBSM. Its vice chair is Dr. John Billi, associate vice president for medical affairs at U-M and associate dean for clinical affairs at the Medical School.

"This is good news for Michigan as we launch an exciting venture that seeks to enhance the delivery and efficiency of health care services to our state's residents," Seitz says.

Billi notes that the joint venture builds on years of cooperation between UMHS and BCBSM. "For nearly a decade, we have partnered in the BCBSM Cardiovascular Consortium, an award-winning project that has saved lives and costs by reducing angioplasty complications at Michigan hospitals and is now working to speed patients' access to emergency angioplasty," he says. "Projects like that are what this joint venture is all about."

The first project to be led by MHQ is one launched by U-M in July of 2006, when the University began reducing or eliminating co-pays for employees and their dependents who have diabetes. More than 2,000 people now are participating. MHealthy: Focus on Diabetes, now will be based in MHQ and administered by its staff, although participants will not notice any change.

The MHQ team will collect and analyze data together with a team from U-M to see if a reduction in out-of-pocket costs succeeds in increasing participants' use of medications and tests that can slow or prevent diabetes complications, such as heart disease, blindness and kidney failure.

The project is the first of many, Seitz and Billi say. The board will meet regularly to consider potential health care projects that will improve the delivery of services, get the best care to the right person at the right time, prevent medical errors, reduce risks, avoid unnecessary treatment, or get more value for the dollars spent.

Projects might focus on ways to help people manage their diseases, recommending improvements related to specific types of surgery, and implementation of demonstration projects that will measure the impact of specific changes in health care delivery or health benefits design, such as disease management programs, to see if such a change should be rolled out to broader groups of patients. Other projects might be designed to evaluate existing health and benefit programs and to look for opportunities to improve them.

As time goes on, MHQ will issue requests for proposals and make pilot funding available for the most innovative and valuable proposed projects.

The venture will allow experts from all areas of U-M, including the Health System, and from other institutions, to pursue projects under contract with the new entity. Blue Care Network and other BCBSM subsidiaries also will be closely involved with the work of the joint venture. Any use of data will be under the jurisdiction of the appropriate research-oversight process to protect patient privacy and rights.

Results or findings of most of the projects commissioned by the joint venture will be available to all health experts. MHQ also may endorse and promote programs and care delivery enhancements developed through projects it fosters.

For a list of board members go to www.med.umich.edu/opm/newspage/2007/jointventure.htm.

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