NISKAYUNA — Bellevue Woman’s Center and General Electric have created a partnership to give area GE employees a break on the costs of prenatal care and childbirth.
The agreement creates a single bundled cost for GE to pay Bellevue for all services and treatment provided to a GE employee or spouse, from the first prenatal visit to mom taking the baby home several months later, plus any post-delivery complications for mom.
It also offers a significantly lower out-of-pocket cost for the patient, a way around the high-deductible health insurance model GE moved to in 2010. About half of the roughly 5,000 GE employees in the Capital Region are enrolled in GE Health Choice and therefore eligible to participate.
GE has designated Bellevue its fifth Center of Excellence for maternity services nationwide. The first was created in Cincinnati in 2015. The others followed in Boston, Milwaukee and Greenville, S.C. Each area has a significant local population of GE employees and spouses, and each partnership involves a maternity care provider considered to be a leader in its region.
There are also seven GE Centers of Excellence for orthopedic procedures. None are in the Capital Region but GE employees here can travel to them; the nearest are in Boston and New York City.
“We started down this path in 2013 with joint replacements,” said health services manager Adam Malinoski, a GE Corporate employee who is based in Schenectady.
Childbirth is the number one reason for hospitalization of GE employees and joint replacement the second most common. But joint replacement is a quicker and easier process than childbirth, he said. GE started with that so it could develop and perfect the Center of Excellence model.
Bellevue is one of the few obstetrics-gynecology specialty hospitals in the nation, and the only such facility among the GE partners. More than 60 percent of births to GE Health Choice participants in the Capital Region have been at Bellevue in recent years, so it’s expected to be a popular choice.
“In other markets our providers have not [started with] that percentage,” Malinoski said.
Roughly 200 to 250 GE babies are born each year in the Cincinnati region (home to the company’s Aviation business). Three years into the partnership, 70 percent are being born at TriHealth, GE’s partner facility there. Sixty-five of the mothers so far have been repeat participants.
The Bellevue partnership opened to patients Aug. 16. GE and Bellevue are not disclosing the bundled cost GE will pay to Bellevue per patient, but it is likely substantial: The bill for a routine childbirth averages more than $14,000 nationwide but can exceed $30,000 for complicated deliveries.
The GE employees’ out-of-pocket costs also will vary, because their health care deductibles are based on their salary. Cost savings are expected to run into the thousands of dollars because regardless of salary, once the patient meets the deductible, 100 percent of bills for care at Bellevue are covered, rather than 80 percent.
Participation is voluntary for employees. As with the rollout of other GE Centers of Excellence, there was a flurry of interest here when the program took effect, with about a dozen calls to the program’s health coach on the first day. Two expectant mothers have signed up so far and a few more are in the process of doing so.
GE and Bellevue will reassess the program as it progresses and may adjust the bundled price tag up or down. Their partnership will be up for renewal in December 2020.
Dr. Nicholas Kulbida, medical director of Bellevue, said the Niskayuna hospital will evaluate what works and doesn’t work as the months progress.
From a medical perspective, he said, the hospital was interested because of the benefit it can provide patients.
“The benefit to anybody when it comes to their health care is to be proactive in receiving it,” Kulbida said. “This type of a bundled process ... I think it actually provides them with a lot of education that they may not have normally received.
“Our general health care system is fragmented overall. This helps to standardize some of that information that patients are receiving during the course of their pregnancy.”
Kulbida, who also heads Ellis Medicine’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, said he’s seen many changes in his 30 years of practice, some of them driven by rising costs, such as discharging new mothers from the hospital as soon as they are ready. That can be a good thing, he said, because home is the best place for mom and baby to recover. But cutbacks self-imposed by cost-conscious patients can be a problem.
“As costs continue to rise, many people will scrimp on their health care,” Kulbida said, or at least ask why a procedure is necessary. “So it’s really important to make the cost of health care affordable and accessible.”
Creating a single bundled cost for the entire pregnancy is expected to help address that concern.
The partnership with GE is an example of what Ellis Medicine said earlier this summer it would pursue.
After a lengthy review of potential merger or affiliation with another hospital or health care organization, Ellis announced it would remain independent — but seek external partnerships to improve patient care and and provide savings for itself and its patients.
Those partnerships won’t necessarily be with other health care entities, spokesman Philip Schwartz said.