Settlement-created groups seek grant proposals
■ Medical society leaders say the two foundations will promote high-quality health care and help physicians in their practices.
By Damon Adams — Posted Feb. 7, 2005
Two foundations created from the settlements of physician class-action lawsuits against CIGNA and Aetna are seeking grant proposals for projects that foundation leaders say would improve physician practices.
They said the foundations would give physicians the tools to improve practice management, promote patient safety and facilitate physician education.
"These suits were never about the money. They were all about changing the system and moving forward," said Tim Norbeck, executive director of the Connecticut State Medical Society and president of both foundations. "We have an unprecedented opportunity to help doctors in their practices."
The Connecticut society was one of the original groups to sue Aetna and CIGNA over the way they paid doctors. The Texas Medical Assn., California Medical Assn. and more than a dozen others were part of the original suits.
The class-action settlements that physicians signed with CIGNA and Aetna in 2003 provided some financial relief for claims filed over the past decade. Norbeck praised the American Medical Association for playing an important role in the agreements. "The AMA was very much involved in helping us get to this point."
Of the two foundations, Donald J. Palmisano, MD, AMA immediate past president, said in a statement: "We anticipate that the physicians' foundations created as a result of the Aetna and CIGNA settlements will soon provide funds through the grant-making process that will ultimately benefit practicing physicians and their patients related to health information technology, including electronic health records and practice management systems. [The] AMA shares the foundations' vision regarding the potential revolutionary use of information technology to improve health care quality, cut medical system errors, strengthen patient privacy protections and allow more time to be devoted to patients."
Funding for foundations
Under its settlement, CIGNA agreed to contribute $15 million to fund the Physicians' Foundation for Health Systems Innovations, the nonprofit foundation established by representatives of medical societies that joined the settlement. Aetna agreed to pay $20 million to establish the Physicians' Foundation for Health Systems Excellence.
Both foundations have similar members on both boards of directors, including Norbeck as president and Jack Lewin, MD, CEO of the CMA, as vice chair. Physicians in the settlements were allowed to contribute their payment to the foundations. Those contributions mean that the foundations have approximately $110 million in funds, including the CIGNA and Aetna money.
"That's a lot of money to do a lot of good, and we want to make sure there's a lasting improvement to health care in the United States," said Patricia Mueller, MD, head of national patient management for Aetna and a board member of the Physicians' Foundation for Health Systems Excellence.
CIGNA officials are enthusiastic about the Innovations foundation's potential impact on medicine. "Our hope is that the foundation will use its efforts to improve the delivery of health care and, ultimately, the quality [of care] for patients," said W. Allen Schaffer, MD, senior vice president and chief clinical officer for CIGNA.
The CMA's Dr. Lewin said among the foundations' first priorities is developing an electronic health records initiative that physicians could apply to their practice. "We're going to facilitate the conversion from paper records to electronic records for as many doctors as possible as one of the first goals of the foundations," he said.
Grant application criteria will be available on the foundations' Web site (link). The foundations will seek concept papers for projects with benefits in three major areas of improving physician practice.
"The grants are intended to assist physicians to improve practice and to improve quality. We hope the impact will be profound," said the TMA's Lou Goodman, PhD, secretary of both foundations.