By Judy Packer-Tursman

After nearly two years of hashing out details, Pittsburgh-based Highmark Inc. and Geisinger recently finalized plans for a $100 million-plus joint venture that both regional health care giants tout as providing greater, long-term access to a value-based community care model in four largely rural counties in north-central Pennsylvania.

The two nonprofits’ ambitious initiative includes building a “healthplex” with 20 inpatient beds, an operating suite, emergency department and multispecialty clinic, slated to open in the latter part of 2020.

“The joint venture looks to be a response to the very real challenge faced by any health plan serving a geographically-dispersed population,” says Joe Paduda, principal with Health Strategy Associates, LLC. “It would be difficult for any individual health plan to build the capability to serve the people in these generally rural counties, so it just makes sense that the two largest providers work together. This spreads capital costs, ensures a larger patient population, and likely delivers care more cost-effectively.”

Highmark and Geisinger assert their latest move — after years of collaboration on traditional payer/provider quality initiatives and the like — will “promote choice” in an “underserved” region.

According to Stephen Seftchick, Highmark’s vice president of network partnership capability and strategic projects, the insurer and Geisinger have been working together on details of the facilities’ design, governance of the joint venture. “But all the facilities will be branded as Geisinger [and known to providers and physicians as such], not a joint venture branding,” he adds.