Walmart picks Virginia Mason for specialty care to workers nationwide [The Seattle Times]By Carol M. Ostrom, The Seattle TimesMcClatchy-Tribune Information Services
Oct. 11--Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle is one of six top-ranked hospital systems in the nation designated by Walmart to deliver specialty care to employees and family members covered by its health-insurance plans.
In the sort of deal typically given only to corporate executives, Walmart, which has 1.4 million workers in the U.S., said Thursday it will cover 100 percent of expenses for specialty heart or spinal procedures and organ transplants at these centers, as well as travel, lodging and food, for insured "associates" and their caregivers.
The other hospital systems named are Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, Geisinger Medical Center in Pennsylvania, the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, Arizona and Florida, Mercy Hospital Springfield in Missouri and Scott & White Healthcare in Texas.
Walmart divvied up the care, designating Cleveland, Geisinger, Scott & White and Virginia Mason to do heart procedures such as bypass grafting, heart-valve replacement and repair, aneurysm repair, repair of heart defects and other complex heart procedures.
Virginia Mason, Mercy and Scott & White were designated to do spinal procedures such as cervical and lumbar spinal fusions, disk arthroplasty, spine-surgery revisions and other complex procedures.
Walmart began the program in 1996, sending insured employees who needed organ transplants to Mayo Clinic sites in Rochester, Minn., Scottsdale/Phoenix, Ariz., and Jacksonville, Fla. Mayo will continue to do transplants, the company said.
"We have identified six renowned health-care systems that meet the highest quality standards for heart, spine and transplant surgery," said Sally Welborn, senior vice president of global benefits for Walmart, in a statement Thursday. "Through these hospital systems, our associates will have no out-of-pocket expenses and a greater peace of mind knowing they are receiving exceptional care from a facility that specializes in the procedure they require."
Virginia Mason's senior vice president and chief financial officer, Sue Anderson, said the medical center shares Walmart's approach to value. "At Virginia Mason, we are focused on providing patients with the right care at the right time in the right setting," she said. "This translates to high quality outcomes of care at a lower cost."
It's not the first time a company or a public insurer has given employees incentives to get care at medical centers seen as delivering good value in terms of quality and cost of care. But a move by Walmart, the largest private employer in the world, is likely to attract considerably more notice.
The company has been roundly criticized over the years for keeping employees in part-time positions that do not qualify them for company health insurance, A few years ago, it expanded insurance coverage, but last year, citing rising costs, it rolled back that expansion and raised premiums.
Cleveland Clinic President and CEO, Dr. Toby Cosgrove, said the program will focus on both patient outcomes and cost control. "Healthcare is in the midst of an unprecedented transformation and requires innovation to improve the way we deliver care to patients across the United States," he said in a statement.
It was not known early Thursday what percentage of Walmart employees are covered by the company's medical plans, or whether employees and covered dependents will be able to pick their own hospital or have to go to the closest one providing the care they need. The company said patients must be healthy enough to travel for the surgeries. Walmart said it would also cover consultations for those complex conditions.
Walmart, headquartered in Bentonville, Ark., operates under different names in 27 countries with 2.2 million employees. Virginia Mason Medical Center, a nonprofit, employs more than 5,300 people and includes a 336-bed acute-care hospital, and a primary and specialty care group practice of nearly 460 physicians. Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason has been recognized for its autoimmune disease research.
It has become known for its enthusiastic application of the Toyota Production System and "lean" manufacturing principles to eliminate waste in hospital processes and improve quality and patient safety. The medical center has been recognized for hospital excellence by various rating groups, particularly for cardiac and gastrointestinal care.
Carol M. Ostrom: 206-464-2249 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @costrom. InformationfromTimesnewsservicesisincluded.
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