It’s been a long process (initiated in Late 2015), but on February 1, 2017, Kaiser officially acquired Group Health with the final stamp of approval coming from Washington State’s Office of the Insurance Commissioner.

Kaiser and Group Health share many values when it comes to delivering healthcare – both heavily leaning on an HMO/integrated health care model. With the acquisition, Kaiser added 651,000 Group Health Members, now serving a total 11.3 million across eight states and the District of Columbia.

As part of the deal, Kaiser has pledged to invest one billion dollars over the next decade to expand and modernize facilities and technologies to improve care and service. Immediately, the most noticeable change users will experience simply is in the name – speculated to take place in early March. You’ll begin seeing ‘Kaiser Permanente” plastered on the side of the 25 primary care clinics, three urgent and four outpatient surgery centers in Washington State. Group Health collateral will be gradually phased out as well. No immediate changes to operations, health care plans or care is expected – at least for the duration of 2017.

For most Washingtonians, Kaiser is only known by reputation. Kaiser does have medical centers in Southwestern Washington, but this acquisition gives them a substantial footprint in Washington State, specifically along Puget Sound’s I-5 corridor. Not much is known about what changes Kaiser is expected to impart upon Group Health’s Infrastructure and health care delivery system – both sides have been quite mum on the topic. However, from our standpoint, from the health insurance perspective, there are a few differences between the two organization’s health care plans and operations that we are anxiously waiting to see how they pan out:

Alternative Care – While you won’t find a Group Health or Kaiser HMO plan offering containing coverage for Naturopathic care, those on Group Health plans may have become accustomed to GHC’s adequate coverage and network of alternative medical providers – specifically, chiropractors and acupuncturists. Kaiser doesn’t share the same level of enthusiasm for alternative care – it will be interesting to see if they budge on this and what will happen with those provider’s contacts.

Access PPO plans – This really is the big question from our standpoint. Group Health offers true PPO plans that utilize the First Choice Health Network, which is the largest network of physicians in Washington State. Plans on both the individual and group sides have garnered significant market share over the past few years. How will Kaiser approach these large PPO offerings? Will they scale them back? Flush them down the toilet? Keep them in place? It will be late April/early May when filings are due for 2018 that we will likely get our first glimpse into what the future holds for these products.

Infrastructure – True to any organization, across any industry, any time a local business gets gobbled up by a large conglomerate, there is a moment of pause and wonder what will be the ramifications to their customer service model? What sort of claims and billing support will there be? When I have a problem am I now going to have contact a Call Center in California (Kaiser is California-based)? What about this online patient portal I’ve been using? How will the overall user experience be impacted?

These are interesting times in the world of health care delivery. This acquisition is sure to directly impact on our local system – Group Health has developed a substantial homegrown presence in Washington State. To learn more, see the link below that will direct you to Group Health’s press release.

“Kaiser Permanente, a National Leader in Integrated Health Care and Coverage, Completes Acquisition of Group Health Cooperative in Washington State.” February 1, 2017.

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