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Partnership between UNC and BlueCross brings more primary care beds to Triangle

Due to a reporting error, this story incorrectly stated that the partnership between UNC Hospitals and BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina would bring 5,000 primary care beds. The partnership will bring 5,000 patients. This article has been updated to reflect these changes. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for the error.

A partnership announced Tuesday between UNC Hospitals and the state’s largest insurance provider will bring 5,000 more patients to the Triangle region.

UNC Hospitals is joining with BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina to establish a primary care facility for BlueCross members by the end of 2011.

“It’s kind of an integrative and aggressive approach toward wellness and prevention,” said UNC medical center spokeswoman Jennifer James.

“More streamlined care means a better outcome for patients,” she said.

The care will target patients, not just their symptoms, said BlueCross N.C. spokeswoman Michelle Douglas.

According to the press release from the two organizations, the practice will focus on patients with chronic conditions, like coronary artery disease, hypertension, diabetes, obstructive lung disease, depression and asthma.

“You can reduce downstream health care costs by reducing visits to the emergency room or prevent some of the complications of the chronic illnesses,” said David Rubinow, chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at the UNC School of Medicine.

UNC and BlueCross N.C. will split the cost of the facility evenly, James said.

“It could be something that ends up costing both organizations,” Rubinow said.

If there are savings, they will also be split between the two organizations, he said.

But Douglas said that although BlueCross N.C. will not profit, UNC is expecting a profit.

“For BlueCross, there will not be profit associated with this venture,” she said. “Where we expect to benefit is that our members will have lower medical costs.”

“UNC does anticipate there being a profit on their side of the equation,” Douglas said.

The location of the new practice will largely be dependent on the position of existing UNC facilities and the availability of appropriate buildings, she said.

The facilities will be established in already-existing buildings, James said.

“UNC is going to be helping to provide the medical staff so we want it to be convenient for them,” Douglas said.

The initial conversation between the two organizations happened last spring and they started working together in September, Rubinow said.

After the practice opens at the end of 2011, there will be a three-year closely monitored trial, he said.

“We want to see that quality care can actually be delivered in an efficient fashion,” Rubinow said.

The focus on prevention as opposed to treatment and central location of services will save money, said Kevin FitzGerald, vice dean for finance and administration for the UNC School of Medicine.

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“It’s a less expensive health care delivery system,” he said.

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