“Doc merger reshapes Hartford’s physician landscape”

HBJ_logoArticle is by Matt Pilon, from Hartford Business.com, a publication of The Hartford Business Journal

CMG CEO Dr. Jarrod Post will be Starling Physician’s new chief medical officer starting Jan. 1.  A merger of nearly 200 Hartford County doctors is all but complete.

Rocky Hill’s Connecticut Multispecialty Group (CMG) and New Britain-based Grove Hill Medical Centers’ 75 physician-partners voted this month to tie the knot, creating one of the largest doctor-owned practices in Greater Hartford.

The groups, which have approximately 900 employees and 28 offices between them, say the deal is a merger of equals involving two financially healthy, doctor-owned organizations that see a long-term need to develop more advanced and integrated treatment systems, as health care slowly shifts away from the fee-for-service model.

As part of the merger, which is slated to take effect Jan. 1, CMG’s approximately 100 physicians will separate from Hartford Healthcare’s (HHC) Integrated Care Partners, a clinical integration organization that has more than 2,000 doctors, including HHC’s own physician group, according to CMG CEO Dr. Jarrod Post.

That means ICP will lose one of its founding physician-group partners, and CMG will no longer have ICP negotiating with insurers on its behalf.

CMG and Grove Hill’s combined organization will operate under the name Starling Physicians. A new website, starlingphysicians.com, was launched quietly this month, and letters notifying patients of the merger and new name are in the mail.

Starling is a type of bird known for gathering and traveling in massive flocks called “murmurations.” The name is also a nod to noted 20th century circulatory physiologist Ernest Starling, said Post, who will become Starling’s chief medical officer.

His counterpart, Grove Hill CEO Dr. Michael Genovesi, will be CEO. The 10-member board of directors will be equally split among CMG and Grove Hill members, Post said, adding that Starling will be shuffling some of its office space, with expansions in the works in Glastonbury, Enfield and Farmington.

Eventually, Grove Hill doctors may depart from their mainly southern Hartford County territories for what has traditionally been CMG territory, and vice versa.

Consolidation wave

The merger is the latest example of healthcare industry consolidation in Connecticut and beyond. Nationally, there have been 59 physician medical group acquisitions so far this year, up 37 percent from a year earlier, according to the Health Care M&A Report, which is published by Norwalk’s Irving Levin Associates.

The trend has been driven by a variety of factors, including a desire to gain market share and clout with insurers, and to evolve toward a population health management model, requiring large, coordinated teams of providers seeking to improve outcomes of large patient populations.

In outlining their intended merger earlier this year, Grove Hill and CMG said they sought to get bigger and to improve patient care.

But the groups also want to move quickly in their shared evolution, Post said.

That’s part of the reason Starling won’t be a member of Hartford Healthcare ICP, which Post said was one of the hardest decisions Starling had to make as part of its merger agreement.

ICP includes Hartford Healthcare physician employees as well as doctors from outside groups (like CMG).

ICP has a Medicare accountable care organization and programs with health plans and employers.

Post, who is a member of ICP’s board, said he has great respect for Integrated Care Partners’ leaders.

“I know what they’re trying to accomplish,” Post said.

But CMG and Grove Hill felt they could develop clinical care models at a quicker pace if they separate from the much larger group.

Starling will still have relationships with Hartford Healthcare, and its doctors will still be in Hartford Hospital and the Hospital of Central Connecticut, Post said.

“We are acting a little more like an independent partner,” he said. “We think we can be a stronger partner in this way.”

Hartford Healthcare spokeswoman Rebecca Stewart said CMG and Grove Hill are “respected medical groups.”

“We are in active dialogue with both groups about participating with ICP” in some type of partnership, Stewart said. “Hartford Healthcare looks forward to continuing our work together with their members and patients as these two groups form a new affiliation.”

While CMG has been a member of ICP since its founding several years ago, Grove Hill has always negotiated insurance contracts on its own.

Now, Starling will pursue the latter strategy. Even combined, Starling is much smaller than ICP. Will that create a challenge?

“What we may not have in volume, we have in capability,” Post said. “Our groups are already functionally integrated and able to change health outcomes for our own and our partner’s patients.”

Starling will have the help of its new chief integration officer Tracy King, who most recently worked as ICP’s vice president.

She will oversee integration of the two groups, insurance contract negotiations, and external partnerships with providers and payers.

Negotiations with various insurers are a looming hurdle; Post said Starling wants to have arrangements in place for January.

Post said 2016 will be a “cementing” year for Starling, as it focuses on integration.

An effort to recruit doctors or merge with other groups could come later.

“If there are other physician groups interested that have the same principles we do, we are certainly interested to talk to them,” Post said.