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HealthSponsoredByLeaders at UnityPoint Health-Meriter, UnityPoint Health, UW Health, Physicians Plus Insurance Corp., Unity Health Plans Insurance Corp. and Gundersen Health Plan have signed two non-binding letters of intent to explore a potential collaboration among the organizations.

“This is the first step in a larger, complex process that provides the opportunity for the organizations to explore potential benefits for patients, families and the community,” according to a news release.

One of the letters describes the exploration of a joint operating agreement between UnityPoint Health-Meriter and UW Health to deepen the existing collaboration between the organizations in caring for patients.

“Under the outline of the agreement, the delivery systems would align their finances to create an integrated clinical enterprise with a shared strategic direction for all of their facilities,” the release said.

“We are eager to explore the benefits we can deliver together to patients in Madison and the broader region,” said Dr. Alan Kaplan, CEO of UW Health. “By more closely aligning our two organizations, our leaders can increase access to care for patients and further build a smart, efficient delivery system that optimizes the best of both organizations and cares for patients where and when they need care.”

“Physicians Plus and Unity and GHP have agreed to explore a possible combination to form a more comprehensive, sustainable and competitive health insurance organization.” the release said.

“The possible combination of Unity and GHP and Physicians Plus will increase access to broader networks and create a more competitive, sustainable range of insurance products that meet diverse needs of members and employers,” said Terry Bolz, president and CEO of Unity and GHP.

According to the release, UW Health and UnityPoint Health-Meriter have a long history of collaboration, including a joint operating agreement for mother-baby care and closer ties among providers of urology and hospitalist services.

“The agreement envisions greater alignment of clinicians. Over a period of time, specialty care providers employed by UnityPoint Health-Meriter would join UW Health to create a single, coordinated clinical enterprise,” the release says.

The realignment would allow UW Health to solve capacity shortages at its 600 Highland Ave. campus.

“Potentially combining Physicians Plus and Unity and GHP would allow the health plans to share best practices that further enhance services to members; to run and manage their organizations more efficiently; and, overall, to create a stronger competitor able to thrive in a challenging marketplace,” according to the release.

“Changes to the health insurance landscape are prompting health insurers to explore ways to gain efficiency and ensure their long-term viability,” said Troy Caraway, CEO of Physicians Plus and a senior vice president of UnityPoint Health. “Greater access to more in-network providers and facilities would help meet rising consumer expectations regarding the cost, coordination and experience of care.”

The organizations will begin exploring potential collaboration in greater detail. Definitive agreements could be signed by the end of the year, with finalization of the collaboration in 2017.