Dean Health System to Join SSM

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media , April 17, 2013

"We've made many innovations in our system really aimed at proving that a single organization can be highest in quality and lowest in cost at the same time. Our results demonstrate our success, ranging from Dean's status from the Wisconsin collaborative for healthcare quality. We are second in the state in a very high quality state; likewise SSM Wisconsin hospitals in their own quality measurement portfolios and as well in costs. As one of [the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services] ACOs… our average total cost of care is nearly 25% lower than the national average of ACOs. We see that as one of the best possible definitions of better care at a lower cost."

Adam C. Powell, a healthcare economist and president of Boston-based consultants Payer+Provider Syndicate, says news of the merger is not surprising.

"SSM Health Care and Dean Health Systems are not strangers, and have been discussing a merger for over a year," Powell wrote in an email exchange. "Dean and SSM have been partners for a century and have existing ties. SSM Health Care already owns about half of Dean Health Plan and a small stake in Dean Health Systems."

"What makes this deal interesting is that it appears to also be a for-profit to non-profit conversion. Dean will go from being a physician-owned for-profit to a subsidiary of a non-profit. Furthermore, SSM is Catholic, while Dean is not. As we have seen a recent wave of de-Catholization and for-profitization, this is a noteworthy counterexample," Powell said.

"Given the broader geographic scope of SSM Health Care, this merger should enable SSM to widely employ Dean's competencies at physician practice management. Many hospital systems are forming tighter linkages with physician practices in order to be able to more effectively manage costs and deliver high-value care," he said.

"This merger has the potential to give SSM Health Care greater ability to acquire and manage physician practices both in Wisconsin and throughout the Midwest."

John Commins is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media.

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