Arizona Connected Care celebrates its first year and signs first private payer contract

John Friend, Dr. Richard Johnson, Judy Rich & Jeri Jones

John Friend, Dr. Richard Johnson,
Judy Rich & Jeri Jones

This week, members of Arizona Connected Care (AzCC), UnitedHealthcare (UHC) and various leaders, community members and brokers attended the official announcement of a new collaboration between AzCC and UHC.

The collaboration represents an important milestone—AzCC’s first private payer contract—which will focus on enhancing care delivery and lowering costs for UHC’s patient population in Southern Arizona.

Changing the approach to health care is exactly what a small group of physicians, nurses and hospital administrators in Tucson started seriously discussing about five years ago.  The bottom line: Escalating health care costs were unsustainable for a nonprofit community hospital, and for the rest of the country.  As Tucson Medical Center CEO Judy Rich said, “We knew we needed to do things differently.”

AzCC grew out of these discussions and became the first accountable care organization (ACO) in Southern Arizona one year ago.  “AzCC is an organization of independent providers.  It includes more than 250 clinicians, and is a physician driven and directed organization,” said John Friend, Executive Director of AzCC and TMC’s VP of Business Affairs.

The group set out with a desire to shift the paradigm of health care to reduce the overall cost, increase quality and improve access to care for patients. This combination was dubbed the “Triple Aim.”

“In order to do this, we have to help people avoid hospitalization, and get them into the care of their primary care physicians.  It’s only been a year since we entered into this partnership, but we are already starting to see results on all three pillars of the Triple Aim,” said Rich.

And now that partnership has extended into the private payer arena.

“By extending our partnership to include UHC, we are able to bring the value and service provided by AzCC to more people in our community,” said Rich.

In fact, according to Jeri Jones, CEO of UnitedHealthcare of Arizona, an estimated 180,000 more people in Southern Arizona will have the opportunity to participate.  “We want to help people live healthier lives, making health care simple and more affordable.  An ACO is beneficial because it takes the data, wellness programs, value based performance incentives with physicians and the hospital, and leverages that with the patient and physician to change health care.  Through this effort, we are confident we can accomplish the Triple Aim and improve health care,” said Jones.

Dr. Richard Johnson, a primary care physician with Saguaro Physicians, is also the Medical Director for AzCC.  He says the goal of the collaboration between TMC, AzCC, and UHC is to make health care a much more likeable system.  “We are very quality driven.  We report to every payer that we have contracts with on whatever metrics they want.  They measure how well we’re taking care of our patients, how often we follow their preventive health, how we manage their chronic diseases, how well we outreach to patients, and how often we care for them after the hospital to make sure they get the care they need.  All are being measured and reported,” he said.

Patient satisfaction is also being monitored regularly.  “Do they like the care they’re getting?  Do they have good access to the providers they need?  We’re not sterling in all those measures, but we recognize the ones were having problems with, and were working hard to improve them,” said Dr. Johnson.

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Tucson Medical Center | 5301 E. Grant Rd. | Tucson, AZ 85712 | (520) 327-5461
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