Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Iowa today announced a collaboration with Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids and the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City to create an accountable care organization (ACO).


The new ACO, the fifth such collaboration by Wellmark with Iowa hospital groups, will focus on coordinating patient care to improve quality, provide greater value, and slow increases in health care costs, the organizations said in a press release.


The agreement is identical to four previous contracts made by Wellmark with health-care organizations in the state, said Courtney Greene, a Wellmark spokeswoman. Among those organizations in Greater Des Moines are UnityPoint Health (formerly Iowa Health System) and Mercy Medical Center - Des Moines, which entered into separate ACO agreements with Wellmark last year.  Wellmark also has ACO relationships with Genesis Health System in Davenport and Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare in Waterloo.


With the added ACO, Wellmark members now have access to an ACO in 47 of the state's 99 counties, Greene said. She said no additional ACO agreements involving Wellmark are expected this year, but the insurer is working with other health-care organizations to potentially launch more ACOs in January 2014.


In an ACO, providers assume responsibility for managing a population of patients, both those who are healthy and those who need care, no matter where in the system the patients receive care. Participating health-care providers receive financial rewards from Wellmark if they meet quality goals and slow the rate of increase in health-care spending. At the same time, providers will not earn their financial incentive if their quality declines or their costs run higher than expected.


To read a related Business Record story that explains how ACOs work, click here.