ARCHIVED  December 30, 2010

Health care in transition phase in 2010, 2011

It was a mixed bag for health care in Northern Colorado in 2010, with new facilities opening and announced, new federal provisions to deal with and a continuing and sharpening rivalry between the region’s two major health-care systems.

And those trends are likely to continue through 2011.

The year just ended saw numerous changes in the national and state health-care landscape, as reforms under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act signed by President Obama in March began to take effect.

Although full implementation of the plan won’t occur until 2014 and beyond, changes began to take place in 2010 that included children being able to stay on their parents’ plan until age 26, no exclusion of insurance coverage for children with pre-existing conditions and no cancellation of insurance due to high claims.

The year also saw Colorado’s beginning steps toward setting up insurance exchanges, where small businesses and other consumers could shop for coverage. The exchanges are expected to be fully operational at the state level by Jan. 1, 2014. The exchanges are also intended to increase competition between insurers by requiring them to offer packages that can be more easily compared for cost and benefits.

The federal reform is expected to bring in millions more insured people into the system, requiring more professionals to deliver the care, which translates into more jobs. But in the short run it’s predicted to create shortages in some areas of health care and strain some delivery systems.

In Northern Colorado, the overriding story of 2010 was the continuing, bruising rivalry between Fort Collins-based Poudre Valley Health System and Phoenix-based Banner Health. Both are jockeying to align with delivery partners in anticipation of a much more competitive health-care landscape.

PVHS landed a devastating blow in April when it was announced that Greeley Medical Clinic – one of the region’s largest physician group, long associated with Greeley’s North Colorado Medical Center – had decided to align itself with PVHS. In July, another longtime independent Northern Colorado specialty practice – Cancer Center of the Rockies – was added to PVHS’ growing number of partners.

New projects, raising profile

That was followed in August with an announcement by PVHS and Longmont United Hospital of a 50-50 partnership in the construction of a new medical campus in Frederick, in rapidly growing southwestern Weld County.

“Our two organizations decided it was more beneficial to work together,´ said PVHS CEO Rulon Stacey in announcing the partnership.

Banner’s NCMC had announced the creation of a similar campus in the same vicinity in early 2008 but shelved those plans as the economic crisis began to take shape.

PVHS and LUH officials said they planned to have a groundbreaking for the 70-acre site in the second quarter of 2011 and open the first building of the new campus a year later.

In late November, PVHS opened the Poudre Valley Medical Fitness Center at the Marina Health Campus in Water Valley in Windsor. The $16 million facility was designed to serve as both a fitness center for the able-bodied and a therapy-recuperation facility for patients seeking to recover mobility after treatment.

While PVHS was having an active year, Banner was also raising its profile in Northern Colorado. In September, Banner announced the grand opening of its $8.8 million David Walsh Cancer Center at its Sterling Regional MedCenter campus, and revealed plans to build a new medical campus in northeastern Colorado between Brush and Fort Morgan.

Banner also announced in November that it had leased the former Crop Production Services building in west Greeley to house about 185 employees formerly located in the Chase building in downtown Greeley.

But Banner also faced challenges in 2010. As the year drew to a close, Banner Health, which owns McKee Medical Center in Loveland and has a contract to operate NCMC, announced it was freezing the salaries of its 35,000 employees in seven states, including Colorado. The move was taken in large part, according to Banner President Peter Fine in a letter to employees, because of declining Arizona Medicaid reimbursements to Banner projected to result in a $100 million reduction in the system’s 2011 budget.

Banner officials said they did not know if the projected budget shortfall would result in job cuts in Northern Colorado in 2011.

By contrast, PVHS employees at Poudre Valley Hospital and Medical Center of the Rockies received 2.3 percent pay raises at the end of 2010.

It was a mixed bag for health care in Northern Colorado in 2010, with new facilities opening and announced, new federal provisions to deal with and a continuing and sharpening rivalry between the region’s two major health-care systems.

And those trends are likely to continue through 2011.

The year just ended saw numerous changes in the national and state health-care landscape, as reforms under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act signed by President Obama in March began to take effect.

Although full implementation of the plan won’t occur until 2014 and beyond, changes began to take place in 2010 that included…

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