Erickson to open off-site medical practice for seniors

July 08, 2008|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN REPORTER

Erickson Retirement Communities, a Catonsville-based national developer of retirement communities, plans to open its first free-standing medical practice for senior citizens next month and will consider expanding with similar off-site offices in Maryland and throughout the country.

The new Erickson office, to open in August in Columbia, will serve adults 65 and older who are covered by Medicare, the company said yesterday. The practice will be the first for Erickson outside its 20 retirement campuses.

The move by Erickson comes at a time when threatened cuts in Medicare reimbursement rates could make it increasingly difficult for physicians to treat Medicare patients. President Bush delayed a 10.6 percent cut that was scheduled to take effect July 1 to give Congress time to work out a resolution.

"When most physicians are moving away from providing care for seniors because of Medicare reimbursement cuts, Erickson is highly focused on developing a sustainable and affordable model of medical care for this population," said Dr. Matthew Narrett, chief medical officer for Erickson. "We're all aware of the fact that seniors, even in Howard County, which is one of the wealthiest counties, are medically underserved. There are fewer and fewer physicians who will take new Medicare patients."

Erickson is exploring whether Erickson Health - a comprehensive health care system for seniors developed over the last two decades at the company's retirement communities - can translate to an off-campus setting, Narrett said. Erickson Health now has more than 100 health care providers serving 21,000 Erickson community residents.

Most attempts to both reduce costs and improve quality of care have run aground because "they haven't changed the delivery system," said Gerard Anderson, a professor at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at the Johns Hopkins University.

"The Medicare beneficiary with multiple chronic conditions is very expensive and very poorly cared for today," Anderson said. "Any good care-coordinating model will save money and improve quality. ... You need good care coordination" for seniors who see many doctors and take many medications.

Narrett said Erickson's model is based on keeping costs aligned with reimbursement rates. Patients will be offered coverage through a Medicare Advantage plan called Erickson Advantage, a partnership between Erickson and Evercare, an insurance product of United Health Care that is now offered to Erickson residents. In Medicare Advantage plans, providers are given a per-member, per- month allowance by Medicare.

In an off-campus setting, Erickson is counting on a certain percentage of patients enrolling in Evercare.

Narrett said Erickson has stressed prevention, disease management and community resources to rein in costs and that patients have benefited. To help coordinate care, its physicians routinely visit residents who are hospitalized.

Erickson Advantage patients on average spend fewer days in the hospital and have lower re-admission rates than Medicare patients, he said.

By opening an office on Cedar Lane in Columbia, on the property of Lorien Columbia nursing home, Erickson hopes to tap into the 15,000 residents 65 and older who live within five miles. The office will be headed by Dr. Rebecca Elon, medical director of Lorien Columbia, and staffed by one physician initially. It could eventually have a staff of five to 10 doctors and lead to similar centers in Maryland and elsewhere.

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