Mergers a byproduct of health law

The new health care law and the pending deal between Via Christi Health and Wichita Clinic are prompting a lot of talk among health care providers about combining practices and operations.

But whether these two events will lead to a rash of mergers in the area in the coming months is anyone's guess, local physicians and health officials said.

More than anything, a changing health care environment at the local, state and national levels is creating a degree of angst among medical practitioners.

"Everybody is trying to find safety and protection in this health care environment because it's changing and there's so much uncertainty," said Joe Davison, a physician at West Wichita Family Physicians, one of the city's largest primary care practices.

There's no doubt that, nationally, the new health care law is spurring a lot of merger activity among providers and hospitals and health systems, said Nick Fabrizio, principal consultant at the Medical Group Management Association, a national trade group for medical practices.

"There are more and more physician groups that are integrating in some way, shape or form with hospitals, health systems and at times, with other physician groups," Fabrizio said.

Fabrizio said uncertainty surrounding the new health care law is one reason. So are the costs of running a medical practice, and the burden of spending thousands of dollars to keep pace with changing technology and implementation of electronic health records.

"Unfortunately, it's a very expensive industry," he said.

But locally, last month's announcement that Wichita Clinic, the area's largest physician group, plans to become part of Via Christi Health, the state's largest health system, is magnifying those discussions.

"I think we're on the heels of a major announcement that is prompting a lot of practices to ask those questions," said Jon Rosell, executive director of the Medical Society of Sedgwick County.

Davison said he thinks the Via Christi-Wichita Clinic deal, which is not expected to be complete for several months, has likely spurred other practices and health care organizations to think about doing something similar. There's also the notion that there's a higher degree of safety in a bigger organization.

But Davison said his group is not feeling any pressure to quickly look at partnering or merging with a hospital or health system — or another physician group.

"I think we believe we have time," Davison said. "Nothing has to happen in 60 days. I think we need to have discussions, whether there are other like-minded organizations in the community."

But Fabrizio of MGMA said fear of the unknown and the future is king and will likely drive more mergers and consolidations, even among organizations that were once fierce competitors.

"Don't be surprised by any alliances you see, because if it's not this week, it's next," he said. "I see people talking today, and a year ago they were rivals."