Published by Michael L. Diamond in The Asbury Park Press
RED BANK – Hackensack Meridian Health is opening clinics in 10 Rite Aid stores in New Jersey as part of a strategy to free up primary-care doctors, ease traffic in emergency rooms and convince consumers to join its system.
The clinics are geared for consumers who have minor ailments: sore throats, coughs and colds, the flu.
“I think the idea is to have this be a resource that allows us to deliver ‘well’ services so that we can better engage with our patient population,” said Dean Lin, regional president of Hackensack Meridian Health.
The Edison-based health care system recently opened clinics in Red Bank, Marlboro and Highland Park, and it plans to open seven more early next year, including at Rite Aids in Little Egg Harbor, Middletown, Neptune, Spring Lake and two in Toms River .
It is the latest step in rewiring New Jersey’s health care system in the wake of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. Health care networks that once made hospitals their centerpieces are reaching into the community through doctor’s offices, urgent care centers, and, now, drug stores.
The reason: Insurers that pay health care providers for the number of services they deliver are slowly shifting gears and giving them a lump sum to manage patients’ health. In short, they will be rewarded for the quality of care.
For health care systems, it means “you want to have as many lives as possible, and you want to have them as well managed as you can,” said Linda Schwimmer, president and chief executive officer of the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute, an advocacy group.
Consumers can walk in without an appointment and see a nurse practitioner for minor illnesses and injuries. A visit to the clinic is $89. It is covered by insurance, but it would be subject to the insurance plan’s deductible. And consumers aren’t required to fill a prescription at Rite Aid; they can go anywhere.
It’s not a new concept. CVS Caremark also has clinics in its New Jersey drug stores. But this model is slightly different. Hackensack Meridian is operating the site in a joint venture with RediClinic, a Houston, Texas-based company that has 100 clinics in pharmacies and grocery stores nationwide. RediClinic was acquired by Rite Aid in 2014. The joint venture pays rent to Rite Aid, said Web Golinkin, RediClinic’s chief executive officer.
“We want to be part of health care ecosystem in the market,” Golinkin said.
The ecosystem is changing fast, even as industry officials wait to see if President-elect Donald J. Trump and Congress make good on their promise to repeal Obamacare.
It seems unlikely, though, that some of the changes underway could be reversed.
Lin and Mike Geiger, Hackensack Meridian Health’s director of convenient care, noted that as many as half of emergency department patients could be treated in a less expensive setting. Their hope: that the new clinics can ease the burden in the emergency department and primary-care offices, giving doctors more time to spend with their patients.
“We’re trying to educate the public where to go, when to go,” Geiger said. Retail clinics are “staffed with nurse practitioners. They can’t do X-rays, but there’s still a ton of stuff they can do.”
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