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ARCHIVED  January 1, 1997

Wyoming Business: HMO pioneer praises new Wyoming effort

CHEYENNE — Wyoming’s first health-maintenance organization has a new name these days — WINhealth Partners — as well as a broader mission of expanding its managed-care program statewide.

And it’s making “the right moves,´ said Dr. Paul Elwood of Jackson, Wyo., one of the fathers and gurus of the managed-care movement.

In a recent WINhealth Partners forum on managed care, Elwood offered both praise and admonitions of caution to doctors in the new Cheyenne-based HMO.

“I want to congratulate the physicians of Cheyenne and United Medical Center for forming Wyoming’s first physician-hospital-based HMO,” Elwood said. “I’m sure many physicians had some misgivings … but in the long run, you’ll be proud that you did it, if you emphasize quality of care and assure yourselves that your patients are getting the highest-quality care at reasonable cost and that your patients are able to stay in the state to get most of it.

“It’s true you’re late getting started,” he added, “but you can learn from the mistakes of others, particularly overemphasizing cost containment and not emphasizing enough quality of care.”

WINhealth Partners was formed in June 1996 as Southeast Wyoming Community Health Co., a 50-50 partnership between Laramie County’s hospital, United Medical Center, and virtually all of Cheyenne’s doctors in active practice.

It’s goal was to develop Wyoming’s first community-driven, provider-owned-and-operated, non-profit HMO before out-of-state, for-profit HMOs moved into the state and further drained health-care dollars from the state. Its unique open-access feature gives patients an opportunity to continue with their own doctor without any gatekeepers.

“It is dedicated to providing communitywide access to high-quality health care at a lower and more predictable cost,´ said Dr. Richard Torkelson, a Cheyenne orthopedic surgeon and president of WINhealth’s board.

Now WINhealth is working hand in hand with the Wyoming Integrated Network (WIN) to extend a doctor-and-hospital-run HMO statewide, a goal of WIN’s since it was formed in 1992.

Initial reaction in southeastern Wyoming has exceeded expectations, despite only limited advertising, suggesting to Torkelson that WINhealth is providing an alternative that Wyoming people want. Now the challenge is to go statewide.

In praising WINhealth Partners, Elwood offered some advice and voiced some reservations about the way managed care has been unfolding in many parts of America:

“Do everything you can to retain control of this arrangement because in observing these managed-care plans, I’m sorry to say that in too many instances they’ve lost track of really what they’re for. They’re not just something to save money, they’re a means of providing better medical care, and too often they’ve fallen into the hands of people who are pretty strictly interested in the financial aspect of things and not the most important clinical aspects.

“One of the things that has me most worried about what’s going on in health care today is that with managed care and with the media’s attention to it, there’s a growing feeling on the part of patients that their doctor is being paid not to treat them. And with that, there is a chance of a loss of trust on the part of the patient with the doctor.

“That’s why I think it’s so extremely important that you retain control of this organization and that you start right out demonstrating that you care about quality,” Elwood advised.

Columbia/HCA eyes Casper market

CASPER — The nation’s largest health-care company is interested in serving Casper’s health-care market and operating Casper’s hospital, Wyoming Medical Center, but hospital officials say they aren’t interested in being acquired.

Columbia/HCA has not made a formal proposal to enter the Casper market, but Colorado division head Mark Brenzel says the company is very interested in Casper and its hospital.

Brenzel met last month with members of the Central Wyoming Physicians Organization, a group of 90 Casper doctors looking to join with several regional hospitals to offer medical services.

Columbia currently owns and operates Columbia-Riverton Memorial Hospital in Riverton. Wyoming Medical Center president Mike Schrader said he’s flattered that Columbia would be interested in operating the Casper hospital, but he said the hospital has absolutely no interest in being acquired by Columbia or any other for-profit health-care company.

CHEYENNE — Wyoming’s first health-maintenance organization has a new name these days — WINhealth Partners — as well as a broader mission of expanding its managed-care program statewide.

And it’s making “the right moves,´ said Dr. Paul Elwood of Jackson, Wyo., one of the fathers and gurus of the managed-care movement.

In a recent WINhealth Partners forum on managed care, Elwood offered both praise and admonitions of caution to doctors in the new Cheyenne-based HMO.

“I want to congratulate the physicians of Cheyenne and United Medical Center for forming Wyoming’s first physician-hospital-based HMO,” Elwood said. “I’m sure many physicians had some misgivings…

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