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Our Take: Partners rebrands; announces five-year strategic priorities

Dec 09, 2019
Boston-based Partners HealthCare System announced plans to rebrand and offered a vision for where the system is headed through 2025.

“Based on feedback from patients and employees and extensive market research,” the health system will transition to Mass General Brigham, Partners said in a press release.

“The Partners HealthCare name has served our organization well for 25 years and has helped us to become the strong system that we are today, but we are moving forward to rebrand to better articulate what we offer patients and more closely reflect the vision for our system,” said president and CEO Dr. Anne Klibanski.

Our Take

After seeing a few recent naming blunders — not naming names here to avoid the nasty emails — Partners got this one exactly right.

As a name, Partners never made much sense to us to begin with. All of the equity lies within three flagship institutions: Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. The name Mass General Brigham puts the real muscle that’s behind the brand front and center.

In fact, the health system acknowledges this in the press release, stating that the Partners board approved the name change “to one that more closely aligns with the system’s world renowned academic medical centers.”

Partners has 14 other hospitals, including Newton-Wellesley Hospital and North Shore Medical Center, more than a dozen owned or affiliated physician groups, urgent care clinics, outpatient surgery centers, and pretty much all other elements of the care delivery continuum. It will be interesting to see how its naming strategy plays out across the system.

The Partners brand reminds us of UC Health, which has struggled to unify all six California systems under a single brand. Some of its institutions, like UCLA and UCSF, are venerable world-class medical centers with strong brand equity.

Consequently, while the UC Health systems benefit from their combined size from a purchasing standpoint, the individual systems remain fiercely independent and protective of their own brands.

In any case, the real story here is what is going on behind the scenes and Partners’ announcement of its five strategic themes. Despite being what we refer to as a “strategically” integrated health system — meaning that the organization is integrated across all elements of care delivery with purpose and through technology — Partners, in our view, has operated more as a holding company than a truly integrated system like, say, Intermountain or Geisinger.

We believe that Partners is taking that next step toward higher integration and providing more seamless care, from the patient’s perspective, across the care continuum.

Here is how Partners describes its five strategic themes:
  • Reinforce for patients that we are the “go to” place for care and develop cross-academic medical centers of excellence
  • Consolidate and expand our national and international impact on health
  • Build on our strong track record for innovations in diagnostics, therapeutics, devices, and data analytics for leading patient care and impact on the health of the communities we serve
  • Focus on a value-based model that delivers affordable primary care, secondary care, and behavioral health care in the community and makes patient-centered programs and services central to delivering better outcomes for our patients
  • Further serve our communities by working to address a leading community health issue
Being the market leader. Growth. Delivering value. Serving the community. We hear these strategic priorities all the time from health system executives, so on their face they aren’t unique. But that doesn’t make them wrong.

Partners faces its share of challenges. Over the past year, two important strategic mergers failed. In November 2018, it walked away from talks with Harvard Pilgrim, Massachusetts’ second largest insurer. Dr. David Torchiana, Partners’ former CEO, told The Boston Globe at the time that “the complexity of [the deal] was really what gradually crept up on us.” Two months later, Dr. Torchiana unexpectedly announced his retirement.

Then, in June, Partners announced that it was pulling out of its deal with Care New England, which would have given the health system a footprint in Rhode Island. Reportedly the pullout was due to pressure from Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, who asked Care New England to try to work out an agreement with Lifespan and Brown University.

If the Boston-based system — whatever it’s called — is to achieve its strategic goals, it can’t let important deals like these slip through its fingers. Increasing its enrolled member base is essential to growing its value-based platform.

And to grow, it must find another system to partner with. Is a deal with Dartmouth-Hitchcock, a like-minded academic medical center in a neighboring market, the next step?

What else you need to know
Novartis initiated a cash tender offer to buy The Medicines Co. (TMC), a drugmaker based in Parsipanny, N.J. The tender offer is for $85 per share, making the deal worth $9.7 billion. In August and again in November, TMC released positive findings from its Phase III clinical program for inclisiran, a potential first-in-class cholesterol-lowering drug based on RNA interference. Intended for patients who don’t respond to statin therapy, inclisiran is injected twice a year. A Jefferies analyst estimated that the drug could generate annual sales of $4 billion. TMC is expected to file for FDA approval of inclisiran this quarter. News of the acquisition sent TMC shares up 23% before the U.S. exchanges opened on Nov. 25. The transaction is subject to customary closing conditions and has been approved by the boards of both companies.

Amazon’s latest foray into health care is Transcribe Medical, a virtual scribe that uses speech recognition applications to assist clinicians with documentation, including note-taking during patient visits. Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced the launch of the service last Sunday with a post on its website. According to the post, Amazon Transcribe is HIPPA-eligible and can be integrated with voice-enabled apps and devices that have a microphone. The service was designed to help clinicians focus more on patients during office visits; it can also help them more efficiently enter data into electronic health records.

The University of Arizona (UArizona) is the latest to offer free tuition for medical students. The university’s Colleges of Medicine in Phoenix and Tucson will provide free tuition to eligible students who agree to practice primary care or another designated critical-access specialty in the state’s underserved communities for two to four years after completing their residency. According to a press release, nearly 100 students could receive free tuition once the scholarship program is fully implemented; the first scholarships will be awarded in January. UArizona noted in the release that Arizona ranks 44th in the U.S. in active primary care physicians per capita.

UnitedHealthcare will be opening Medicare service centers in Walgreens stores, starting in January. The multiyear agreement between the two companies, announced on Nov. 25, calls for the opening of 14 centers in five metro areas: Cleveland, Denver, Las Vegas, Memphis, Tenn., and Phoenix. Walgreens customers will be able to learn more about Medicare and enroll in a UnitedHealthcare Medicare Advantage (MA) plan, or get assistance with their UnitedHealthcare plan benefits if they’re already enrolled. UnitedHealthcare MA plan members will also be able to schedule an in-store annual wellness checkup. The agreement expands on a partnership between Walgreens and UnitedHealthcare through which they launched Medicare Advantage plans co-branded with AARP for 2020; those plans are available in 24 states.

Several hospitals and hospital groups are suing the federal government to block the Trump administration’s transparency rule. Last month, CMS finalized a rule that, starting in January 2021, will require hospitals to post their negotiated rates with commercial insurers for 300 “shoppable” services. The American Hospital Association, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said in a press statement the CMS rule “will lead to widespread confusion and even more consolidation in the commercial health insurance industry.” Collectively, the plaintiffs contend that publishing the negotiated rates won’t help consumers know their out-of-pocket costs or whether their treatment is covered by their health plan. They also claim that the government is overstepping its authority and violating the First Amendment by forcing hospitals to divulge confidential and proprietary information. In addition, the plaintiffs argue, complying with the rule will place a hefty burden on hospitals in terms of implementing and maintaining the necessary reporting and publishing systems.

Humana said it saved an estimated $3.5 billion in health care costs last year through its value-based Medicare Advantage plan payment arrangements. In its sixth annual Value-based Care Report, Humana said the rate of hospital admissions was 27% lower and the rate of emergency department visits was 14.6% lower for members in MA plans with value-based payment models as compared with members in traditional fee-for-service Medicare plans. Moreover, members in the value-based plans had a higher rate of annual wellness visits (36.1% vs. 28% for members in non-value-based plans). According to the report, 67% of Humana’s individual MA membership is affiliated with primary care physicians in value-based agreements, and about 36% of the insurer’s group MA membership is with value-based physicians.

Amgen signed its second outcomes-based agreement with pharmacy benefit manager Abarca, tying reimbursement for Enbrel (etanercept) with how well the drug performs in patients. According to the agreement, if patients discontinue using the drug after three months, Abarca will be eligible for rebates. Last year, Amgen agreed to a similar deal for its cholesterol drug, Repatha (evolocumab), although the outcomes measured weren’t specified. Abarca said the agreement is possible because of the company’s “smarter PBM platform, which tracks utilization in real-time and generates the detailed information drugmakers need to issue a rebate.”

What we’re reading
The future of care — preserving the patient-physician relationship. NEJM, 12.5.19 (sign-in or subscription required)
Life expectancy and mortality rates in the United States, 1959-2017. JAMA, 11.26.19 (subscription required, abstract available)
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