Emory, Blue Cross exploring possible alliance

Emory Healthcare has entered talks with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia on creating an initiative aimed at improving quality of care and reducing health costs.

Few details were given in a press release Monday announcing the talks, but there was immediate speculation that the two organizations will form an “accountable care organization.’’

ACOs are medical networks that seek to improve patient care and contain costs. Many are combinations of providers such as doctors and hospitals, but some consist of collaborations between insurers and hospital systems, such as Piedmont Healthcare and Cigna in the metro Atlanta market.

A spokesman for WellPoint, Blue Cross’ parent company, told GHN on Monday that it is possible the talks with Emory could lead to creating an accountable care organization.

“That is a trend that is gaining steam across the country,’’ said Scott Golden, a WellPoint spokesman.

Blue Cross is Georgia’s largest health insurer.

The announcement about talks was no surprise given recent national trends. Health care organizations are pursuing consolidation at an almost stunningly rapid pace, prompted by market pressures and the national health reform law of 2010.

Emory and Blue Cross said in a press release that a goal is “to bring together the often fragmented health care delivery and reimbursement systems to create an integrated model of coordination and shared accountability among hospitals, doctors and insurance carriers.’’

An Emory official, Janet Christenbury, said the two organizations will have more to say about the collaboration in coming weeks. She said the talks were driven, in part, by changes in the health care marketplace and by the Affordable Care Act.

Charles Goldberg, an Atlanta-based health care consultant, said the Emory/Blue Cross collaboration could be a response to recent moves by Piedmont Healthcare and WellStar Health System. Those two organizations have formed a partnership and are working to offer a health insurance product.

“There’s a lot of momentum’’ toward these combinations, Goldberg said. “It will be interesting to see what happens over the next couple of years.’’

John Fox, president and CEO of Emory Healthcare, said in a statement, “This is an exciting opportunity that we strongly believe will have a profound and positive impact not only on the way care is delivered throughout the state, but it will also better manage health care costs.”

Morgan Kendrick, president of Blue Cross, added, “Georgia is fortunate to be at the forefront of a number of innovations in health care. Emory Healthcare is in a unique position because of the broad range and reach of its services, as well as its academic mission and affiliations . . . Together, we will work to improve health care delivery, quality and affordability.”

Last week, the federal government announced 106 ACOs that will participate in a special Medicare “shared savings’’ program, with nine of them serving Georgians. Here’s a GHN article from last week on the Medicare program.