by Ashley Thurow

In early April this year, Intermountain Healthcare and SCL Health finalized a merger of the two hospital systems.  SCL Health, a system that includes St. Mary’s Medical Center here in Grand Junction, will take on the Intermountain moniker and branding as a part of the merger.

At Monument Health, we are excited to partner with Intermountain here in our region.  Our organizations share similar goals of expanding the adoption of value-based care and payment reform.  Intermountain Healthcare is known nationwide as a leader in value-based care, with roughly half of Intermountain revenues now derived from full risk, value-based arrangements.  Compared with a nationwide average of about ten percent, it is clear that Intermountain is well ahead of the curve in embracing alternative payment models.  We feel that the presence of Intermountain in the Grand Valley will further reinforce the work that we are doing here at Monument Health and accelerate our efforts to expand healthcare reform.

How will payment reform and the presence of the Intermountain system change the patient experience in our market?  We anticipate that change will not occur overnight, but patients can expect to see more integrated care as time goes on.  One of the more noticeable ways this can happen is by expanding telehealth services.  Marc Harrison, CEO of Intermountain Healthcare, often touts their “clicks and mortar” approach to delivering high quality care via investments in digital innovation.  Telehealth is vitally important to improving healthcare access, particularly in more rural communities like Western Colorado.  Enhanced telehealth services will mean that patients will have reduced need to leave the Grand Valley to access high quality, specialty care, because experts can be brought here via telehealth, to partner directly with our local physicians.  Driving four hours to Denver or Salt Lake is not only an inconvenience, but can disrupt the coordination of the patient’s care during those handoffs.  Telehealth solves for many of those tough situations to keep care closer to home.

Another change patients are likely to see is more emphasis on primary care services.  Value-based care and payment reform seek to refocus patient care back into lower cost settings such as the primary care doctor’s office.  At Monument Health, we believe that a close relationship with a primary care provider is the most powerful way to address the ballooning costs and disjointed patient experience within the healthcare system.  Here in the Grand Valley, we are fortunate to have high performing, patient-centered primary care practices such as Primary Care Partners, but we still have a shortage of primary care doctors.  

As you move outside of Mesa County, that shortage becomes even more pronounced.  “One of the key tenets of value-based care is primary care access,” Bryan Johnson, President of St. Mary’s Medical Center, reinforced recently to the Daily Sentinel.  Patients need to be connected with primary care that is convenient and accessible for the model to work.  Intermountain recognizes this fact and often co-locates valuable services such as behavioral health counselors and physical therapists into primary care doctor’s offices, so that patients can get all the care they need in one place.

Reducing costs goes hand in hand with a higher emphasis on primary care.  Alternative payment models boost reimbursement for primary care physicians, while simultaneously reducing payment to hospitals.  The theory is that patients should utilize lower cost services more often, in order to have expensive hospital visits less often.  Monument Health has proven out this concept, both for our local employer groups as well as for the Medicare and Medicaid populations we support.  Reducing hospital utilization has direct impacts on the price of health insurance.  As insurance premiums are held in closer check, patients and employers across the Grand Valley can gain more predictability in their healthcare expenses.  Monument Health and Rocky Mountain Health Plans were excited this year to share that monthly premiums for our products sold on the Connect for Health Colorado insurance exchange are now cheaper than in Denver.  This progress was propelled by our value-based care approach and focus on driving patients to primary care settings.  We anticipate that this positive momentum will continue with Intermountain Healthcare as a willing participant in our primary care-first approach.  Kim Bimestefer, executive director of Colorado’s Department of Health Care Policy and Financing, alluded to Intermountain’s aggressive approach to value-based care in a recent interview with the Denver Post, “If they [Intermountain] bring that skill set to the Western Slope… it might actually bring overall health care costs down.”  

At Monument Health, we look forward to deepening our relationship with Intermountain Healthcare during this health system integration.  We feel that the importance of our network has never been greater, and we are excited to see the healthcare providers in our community continue to embrace the concept of value-based care.  

Ashley Thurow
Executive Director, Monument Health