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Steward CEO Says Low-Cost Insurance Promotes Community Care

This article is more than 11 years old.

WBUR's All Things Considered host Sacha Pfeiffer speaks with Ralph de la Torre, CEO of Steward Health Care, about the lower-cost health insurance plan for small businesses that Steward rolled out Friday.

Steward, which runs the former Caritas Christi hospital network, says its plan will offer coverage that's 15 to 30 percent cheaper than Blue Cross Blue Shield or Harvard Pilgrim. The catch is that, for routine care, patients will have to go to Steward doctors and hospitals, which have been trying to shake off a reputation as second-tier. But they can go to Mass General or Brigham & Women's for more complicated care.

The plan will be offered through Tufts Health Plan, and Steward says it can save money for small businesses and their employees.

SACHA PFEIFFER: Does this have the potential to be a moneymaker for Steward?

RALPH DE LA TORRE: We haven't designed the product itself to make money; the product is priced to break even. The way that Steward benefits is two-fold: we have potentially more patients coming into our community hospitals. But, more importantly, by giving small businesses a chance to grow and expand, it takes people from government pay insurance to commercial insurance, and it benefits us that way, and the community tremendously by having more people employed.

Why does it make sense for Steward to do this?

Community care is cheaper. And for routine care, it can be provided with the utmost of quality — just as good or better than anywhere — but at a lower cost. I mean, everything in the small communities are just cheaper than they are in downtown Boston. And by creating a health plan, or by participating in creating a health plan, that helps lower the cost of small business, we begin the process of helping revitalize and interject growth in small business. As a result, our communities, our hospitals and everybody benefit tremendously.

A key piece of this is that consumers' choices will be limited, at least for routine medical care. They'll be expected to go to Steward doctors and facilities. In the past, consumers haven't liked this; they don't like the idea of limited choice. What makes you think that suddenly now they'll embrace that idea?

This might not be for everybody, but there's a group of people, and there's a group of employers, who want to stay in their community, who stay in the community. And that's what we're offering. We're offering a health plan that's not for everybody. It's a choice, but the people who say, "You know what? I want to stay in my community for health care. The quality here is great for routine care, and the quality at MGH and the Brigham is great for the advanced care. I'm going to make that choice and I want the financial benefit of making that choice." And the key here is that the people who do choose to stay locally shouldn't subsidize those that go into town for everything. They should get the benefit of that choice.

Are there any key health services that you think the Steward network is missing right now that you want to add in order to attract more consumers to your plan and your network?

No, not really. Because, remember, we're doing it in partnership with Tufts and we're doing it in partnership with Partners — with MGH and Brigham — and so the things that we don't provide, those two organizations do provide. It's a great three-way partnership.

This program aired on September 16, 2011.

Sacha Pfeiffer Host, All Things Considered
Sacha Pfeiffer was formerly the host of WBUR's All Things Considered.



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