Layoffs this week at Patuxent Medical Group

CareFirst also reports downsizing at its Potomac Physicians unit

Health care

June 29, 2000|By M. William Salganik | M. William Salganik,SUN STAFF

Losing enrollment and money, Patuxent Medical Group, the remnant of Columbia Medical Plan, is laying off staff this week, David Wolf, executive vice president of CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, said yesterday.

There is also downsizing at Potomac Physicians Practice Association, another group of physicians owned by CareFirst, he said.

Wolf said employees were still being given notice, and that the number of people laid off would not be available until the end of the week. He said some staff would be transferred to other CareFirst operations.

Patuxent Medical Group was closely tied to Columbia Medical Plan, an HMO founded in 1969, as the city of Columbia was being developed, and acquired in 1982 by the company that is now CareFirst (at the time, it was Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maryland).

Patuxent operates a large center in Columbia with doctors (both primary care and specialists), nurses and aides, and smaller centers in Annapolis and Frederick. The downsizing will affect all the centers, Wolf said.

The centers were designed so patients would receive most of their care from one group of doctors in one place, the "staff model" or "group model" HMO. Most HMOs now use a model called independent practice association, or IPA - many participating physicians who have their own offices and participate in many health plans.

Potomac Physicians is organized differently from Patuxent. It has about half a dozen offices around the Baltimore area, each with a few primary-care doctors employed by CareFirst.

Wolf said Patuxent has been losing patients, who are selecting health plans allowing more choice of physicians. Columbia Medical Plan enrolled about 77,000 members in 1996. It was merged into FreeState Health Plan in 1998, and now cares for about 60,000 people, Wolf said.

Wolf said the drop resulted both from FreeState members choosing doctors outside the Patuxent group and from people moving from FreeState's HMO to more flexible health plans.

Tracy Cassidy, a health benefits consultant in the Washington-Baltimore office of William M. Mercer Inc., said there has been a trend away from HMOs with tight restrictions on selection of doctors to plans with more freedom. "Employees value a choice in the marketplace, and you get more choice with an IPA model," she said.

Wolf said Patuxent is losing "a significant amount of money," but declined to be more specific, saying CareFirst does not make public the financial details of its subsidiaries.

He said the reductions would include "one or two physicians" and a variety of other staff. He said some clerical operations would be shifted to other CareFirst offices (in some cases, with the staff) while others would be done by outside contractors.

Patuxent has about 400 employees, he said. The number of employees at Potomac was not available.

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