WellPoint offers two paid fellowships for physicians

The health plan's yearlong program is meant to provide insight into the health insurance business.

By Emily Berry — Posted May 13, 2009

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Citing what it sees as a shortage of physician leaders who understand the health insurance business, WellPoint, the country's largest health plan by membership, will sponsor a yearlong fellowship for two doctors.

The fellowships offer physicians with clinical experience and business degrees a chance to gain hands-on experience with payer operations, said Anthony Nguyen, MD, the company's senior vice president of medical strategies and operations.

Dr. Nguyen said he believes WellPoint is the first major insurance company to sponsor such a program. The fellowship pays $100,000 for the year and will involve work at WellPoint offices in Woodland Hills, Calif., or in Indianapolis. The deadline for applications is June 30 (link).

The program isn't an opportunity for WellPoint to "brainwash" physicians into seeing everything from the health plan's point of view, Dr. Nguyen said.

"When we ask, 'Who is going to lead the new generation of physician leaders to improve health care ... we need physicians that have broad experience," Dr. Nguyen said. "We don't have that right now."

Bruce Bagley, MD, medical director for quality improvement at the American Academy of Family Physicians, said it would be hard to see how two fellows would have any impact on the health system, either good or bad. "Most physicians don't really fully understand the business essentials of a health plan -- how it operates, why it makes the decisions it makes."

Insurance trade group America's Health Insurance Plans, through its foundation, sponsors fellowships for medical directors working in the health insurance industry, alongside leadership fellowships for health plan executives. Applicants for the medical director fellowship must already be employed with a health plan. This year's application deadline for the AHIP fellowships has passed (link).

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