Competition among health maintenance organizations to provide medical care for residents of Cecil and Harford counties got a little hotter yesterday.
HealthPlus Inc. announced that it signed a contract with the region's dominant health-care network, Upper Chesapeake Health System Inc. The pact is the fourth such agreement Upper Chesapeake has entered into with an HMO since July 30, following an unexpected break with the Prudential Health Care Plan.
"What this means is that we've essentially opened up the market for a whole new group of [health-care] providers to come in," Darcel Guy, an Upper Chesapeake spokeswoman, said. "Essentially, what that does is give local employers additional options."
Upper Chesapeake is a 7-year-old organization serving more than 14,000 patients through four health-care centers in Harford County and one in Cecil County.
Ms. Guy said that differing business philosophies led to the rift between Upper Chesapeake and Prudential. Among other things, Upper Chesapeake expressed a desire to contract with HMOs other than Prudential, which had been the health-care network's sole HMO, according to Ms. Guy. Upper Chesapeake had been affiliated with the Johns Hopkins HMO until earlier this year, when that HMO was taken over by Prudential.
After Prudential announced in July that all Upper Chesapeake patients on the Prudential plan would have to change their primary physicians by Sept. 1, other HMOs began flocking to Upper Chesapeake. In addition to HealthPlus, FreeState Health Plan, Aetna Health Plan of the Mid-Atlantic and Chesapeake Health Plan have signed contracts in the past two weeks.
A call to a Prudential spokeswoman was not returned.
Virginia Dollard, HealthPlus' chief operating officer, said, "We are starting to grow very rapidly in the Baltimore marketplace, and we're finding that many people who work in Baltimore City or Baltimore County live in Harford County."
HealthPlus, which has 170,000 HMO members in Maryland, Washington and Northern Virginia, had $141 million in revenues and just under $15 million in pre-tax profits last year.