In 2008, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield began its own two-year patient-centered pilot program, involving 11 primary care practices and 45,000 CareFirst members in Maryland, DC and Virginia.

CareFirst will launch a full-scale program in January based on the findings from the program.

CareFirst paid participating practices a flat fee of $4 per patient per month. The result was about $100,000 additional earnings per practice, said Dr. Jon Shematek, CareFirst’s senior vice president and chief medical officer.

CareFirst also provided one-time grants up to $100,000 to each practice for electronic medical records. All of the practices in the pilot program took advantage of the offer, even those that had electronic medical records but wanted to upgrade them.

“We learned a lot from this [pilot] program. We believe in the long run that it will help to improve the quality of care for patients and, in an even longer timeframe, reduce the cost of health care,” said Shematek.

But Shematek cannot say if the program saved money for CareFirst. “We don’t know yet. We suspect it will take longer than two years to demonstrate that,” he said.

— Barbara Pash