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Dr. Michael Ciampi took over his father’s practice, amid in the home on Stevens Avenue in Portland breadth he and his bristles ancestors were raised, in 1999. Aback then, he was one of abounding absolute doctors in Maine.

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That afflicted a decade ago aback Ciampi confused his convenance to a adeptness run by an adjunct of Mercy Bloom Arrangement of Maine, ancestor to Mercy Hospital. Ciampi’s ancestor recommended the move as a way to abate Ciampi of the burdens of active a practice, from announcement paperwork to absent paid time off.

At the time, moves such as Ciampi’s weren’t as common, and today, 80 percent of all primary affliction doctors in Maine are affiliated with hospitals or federally accurate association bloom centers, according to the Maine Medical Association.

In some rural areas, no absolute physicians remain.

Beginning in the backward 1990s, bloom affliction mergers swept beyond Maine and the blow of the country, cementing hospitals’ bazaar adeptness and, abounding would argue, abandon to allegation college prices. In the beginning, mergers were apprenticed by the acceleration of bloom aliment organizations, additionally accepted as HMOs. Added recently, the recession has sparked alliance talks.

More than a dozen bloom affliction mergers accept been proposed or completed in Maine over the aftermost decade — a planned accord amid Mercy, Ciampi’s above employer, and Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems of Brewer as the best recent.

Today, 18 of Maine’s 38 acute-care and psychiatric hospitals are associates or affiliates of the state’s two bigger hospital systems, EMHS and Portland’s MaineHealth.

The growing ascendancy of hospital systems, both in Maine and nationwide, has absolute implications for the amount and affection of medical treatment. Some say it has beneath insurers’ acceding power, arch to college prices.

Others argue that big, adult systems are best positioned to arrest the acceleration of bloom affliction costs by transforming how affliction is paid for and delivered.

Increasingly, decisions about the hospitals that ballast abounding Maine communities are fabricated in the boardrooms of big bloom systems, from whether a hospital continues to bear babies, achieve assertive surgeries, or in the case of Boothbay Harbor, accumulate its emergency allowance open.

Rising prices

Many doctors are absorbed to hospitals by the affiance of banking adherence because Medicare pays essentially added for abounding casework if they’re performed at a hospital against a clandestine doctor’s office.

Hospitals can allegation an added adeptness fee, meant to atone them for the amount of greater infrastructure, that absolute doctors can’t. Hospitals, sometimes paid alert as abundant for the aforementioned service, action doctors college salaries and abatement from the abundant accountability of back-office tasks such as billing.

While hospitals may lose money on the convenance itself, abnormally in beneath advantageous areas such as primary care, they about achieve it up on added casework for the practice’s patients, such as lab work, X-rays, and referrals to surgeons and cardiologists aural their systems.

Those added fees accommodate specialty casework such as cardiology and gastroenterology, explained David Howes, admiral and CEO of Martin’s Point Healthcare. Martin’s Point provides bloom affliction at clinics throughout the accompaniment and offers several bloom allowance plans.

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“It has been my consequence aback we attending at the absolute amount of care, that as casework move into the hospitals in Maine … about consistently the amount of those casework increases,” he said.

Insurance agents accept acclaimed a agnate pattern, said Joel Allumbaugh, admiral of the Maine Association of Bloom Underwriters and CEO of Civic Worksite Account Group Inc., an agent allowances allowance agency.

“In our acquaintance alive with bloom allowance programs, amount of casework are about consistently college aback affiliated with a hospital against an absolute practice,” he said.

In abounding cases, financially beggared absolute physician practices would contrarily accept bankrupt up shop, said Frank McGinty, controlling carnality admiral and broker for MaineHealth. Abounding doctors, faced with shrinking reimbursements, chock-full accepting patients with government-sponsored insurance, he said. Being acquired by a hospital obligates doctors to accommodate affliction to all patients behindhand of their adeptness to pay, he said.

“Hospitals accept stepped into the blunder and active physicians in adjustment to bottle an important ability in the community,” McGinty said.

Health affliction economists broadly accede the now all-over alliance amid bloom affliction providers is a above acumen for ascent prices in the U.S., according to a November 2012 analysis address by Catalyst for Payment Reform, a civic nonprofit that works on account of ample administration and others to advance the amount of bloom care.

Health affliction spending in Maine averaged $8,521 per being in 2009, amid the fastest-growing and accomplished expenditures in the nation. Maine was the fifth best big-ticket accompaniment for hospital care.

Consumers feel the burden of those college bloom affliction costs in the anatomy of ascent allowance premiums, bare bottomward allowances and lower wages.

But bloom provider alliance can additionally advance to added able operations, by eliminating bifold activities and staff, and advance bigger affliction and bigger affection through added coordination, advisers accept found.

“Despite the abeyant benefits, there is additionally abhorrence — based on well-documented actual trends — that unless we administer it carefully, absorption provider bazaar adeptness will advance to alike college prices and revenues … afterwards activated improvements to quality,” the November address stated.

McGinty countered that there’s little affirmation that alliance has led to college prices actuality in Maine. Michelle Hood, admiral and CEO of EMHS, said prices may acceleration in regions of the country breadth alliance banned competition, but best Maine communities accept alone one hospital anyway.

As hospital systems abound larger, insurers accept a harder time acceding for lower prices because they calculation on those systems’ doctors to serve their policyholders, Howes said.

“In Bangor, one has no best but to accept Eastern Maine Healthcare in your network,” he said. “In southern Maine, you accept no best but to accept MaineHealth.”

McGinty, meanwhile, believes big insurers such as Anthem and Cigna, with billions of dollars in assets, are added than able of apery their customers’ interests.

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“It’s not like this is a exchange in which ample hospital systems are ambidextrous with weak, bootless payers,” he said. “Quite the contrary.”

Some of the contempo flurry in hospital acquisitions has been apprenticed by banking circumstances, said Andrew Coburn, a rural bloom able and armchair of the Master of Accessible Bloom affairs at the Muskie School of Accessible Account at the University of Southern Maine.

MaineHealth acquired Goodall Hospital, for example, as the Sanford hospital faced austere banking challenges, he said.

“You never apperceive the motive,” Coburn said. “To some extent, it may be a accommodating purpose in some of these acquisitions and mergers … On the added hand, what those mergers and acquisitions do is coalesce the bazaar breadth for these systems. That can be a acceptable affair or a bad thing.”

EMHS’ blank of Blue Hill Memorial Hospital kept the hospital afloat afterwards its award took a hit with the recession, Hood said.

“Blue Hill’s lath has said about that was it not for the arrangement and the assignment we do there, they apparently would not accept been able to accumulate the doors open,” Hood said.

As hospital systems abide to extend their reach, they’re grappling with a new bloom affliction mural apparent by lower reimbursements, a about-face abroad from advantageous doctors for anniversary analysis and procedure, and added patients who can’t pay their medical bills.

In aggravating to actuate what those changes will beggarly for their organizations, hospital systems are attractive to accumulate how they bear affliction in a array of settings.

Most are acute a advance that will about-face accepted cases abroad from big-ticket hospital affliction to added affordable networks fabricated up of physician practices, burning affliction clinics and added facilities.

The trend has reared its arch in Maine with the planned cease of the emergency allowance at St. Andrews Hospital in Boothbay Harbor. The hospital, a affiliate of MaineHealth, has cited low accommodating counts and added banking apropos for the move, which is angrily against by some locals. Afterwards the ER closure, the hospital would become an burning affliction center.

“We’re not activity to charge the aforementioned basement activity avant-garde that we’ve commonly had,” Coburn said. “That can be actual aching because it does beggarly that some casework we apparently won’t charge and some casework we will.”

Rural hospitals in accurate will be faced with difficult decisions, said Colin McHugh, bounded carnality admiral of provider assurance and application for Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Maine.

“These beyond systems that accept acquired these rural hospitals that are economically challenged, they’re activity to be affected to accept some boxy conversations,” he said.

MaineHealth additionally in contempo years has brought into its bend Southern Maine Medical Centermost in Saco and Pen Bay Medical Centermost in Rockport.

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Further north, EMHS has amorphous alliance talks with Portland’s Mercy Hospital, and Central Maine Healthcare continues to eye Brunswick’s Parkview Adventist Medical Centermost (though the angle has been suspended).

At the aforementioned time, hospital systems are activity burden from allowance purchasers, including ample employers, to rein in prices, said McHugh.

“When a hospital does access addition hospital, there is a assertive akin of accountability they feel to at atomic authenticate to the accessible that they are acting in the best absorption of the community, that they are aggravating to accommodate prices, and that they are aggravating to bear on the promises they fabricated for the acumen for the acquisition,” he said. “That is, to lower authoritative costs, and accretion analytic efficiencies and authoritative efficiencies.”

From Anthem’s perspective, aback hospitals merge, the amount of amount increases doesn’t change abundant from afore the transaction to after, he said.

Hospital alliance will account consumers as the bloom affliction industry moves against new models that tie payments to how able-bodied doctors, nurses and added providers assignment calm to advance patients’ health, McHugh said.

Bigger systems accept the admeasurement and calibration to booty on that challenge, while absolute and rural hospitals face a tougher road, he said.

MaineHealth has leveraged the system’s assets to accumulate how affliction is delivered, advance in affection improvements and abate costs, such as by purchasing appurtenances and casework at lower prices than a distinct hospital could secure, McGinty said.

“We’ve been able to achieve improvements in affection and abridgement in the costs of casework that wouldn’t accept been accessible if the hospitals had remained absolute organizations,” he said.

The physician’s dilemma

While some, including Ciampi, anticipate the alliance trend led to beneath claimed affliction with patients added confused to mid-level providers such as assistant practitioners, the doctor acknowledges one upside.

“To be fair, hospitals accept a lot added services,” he said. “You accept one-stop arcade breadth you can see your doctor and you can accept your X-rays and your claret tests and avant-garde images all beneath one roof.”

Nevertheless, Ciampi said he grew added abashed by the realities of alive beneath a ”big abstract system.” He had beneath ascendancy over his agenda and decisions about affliction as “productivity” took a advanced seat, he said.

So Ciampi took the convenance back, four years later. It’s now amid in South Portland and, in a nod to its history, is absorbed to Ciampi’s home.

“As an absolute physician, it’s been actual adamantine to break in practice,” Ciampi said, citation ever-changing allowance regulations that access doctors’ aerial costs, accompanying with brackish agreement ante through Medicare.

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“That’s absolutely the bind that physicians are in appropriate now — do you appetite aegis or do you appetite independence?” Ciampi said.

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