December 13, 1996 in Nation/World

Health Care Merger Plan Advances Group Health Directors Vote

By The Spokesman-Review

A vote in Seattle Wednesday night moved Group Health in Seattle and Spokane a step closer to merging with Kaiser Foundation Health Plan Inc. of Portland.

The joint venture would serve more than 1 million Northwest residents. Discussions toward a possible merger were announced in September.

Wednesday, the board of directors of Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound endorsed a bylaws change to allow formation of a non-profit organization, Kaiser Group Health, with a new governing board.

The change does not become final until the cooperative’s 40,000 members vote on the measure next spring.

Although none of the voting members belong to Spokane-based Group Health Northwest, two of the organization’s board members have been participating in the merger discussions.

President Henry Berman said several task forces are looking at how Kaiser Group Health would operate. Generally, he said, area offices in Portland, Seattle and Spokane would operate independently, reporting to a single senior executive.

Berman predicted the Eastern Washington operation, which serves 173,000, would experience the least amount of change.

“Everything that happens at the health centers will stay the same,” he added.

Berman said Oakland-based Kaiser Permanente, the parent of the Portland office, has been giving its subsidiaries increasing independence as long as they meet certain standards.

The more successful an operation becomes, the more freedom it has.

“We’re very confident that if that’s the screen we’re held up against, we’ll do very well,” Berman said.

He said response to the initial news Kaiser and Group Health might combine indicates the medical plans will be better able to retain and attract large national accounts, as envisioned by the proposal’s backers.

, DataTimes

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