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Something to Smile About

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Doing Our Part
As the global war on terror wears on, the Health System is playing a role, taking care of military families

Leann Ridenour, center, and daughter Leilani will depend on the Uniformed Services Family Health Plan when husband Kevin is stationed in Korea next year. (Photo credit: Leann Ridenour)

Leann Ridenour’s husband, Kevin, is a U.S. Army staff sergeant based at Fort Detrick. Starting this winter, he’ll be stationed in Korea for a year. While it won’t be an easy time for Leann and her 12-year-old daughter, Leilani, at least they know they can count on one thing: high quality health care.

Leann and her daughter are members of the Uniformed Services Family Health Plan, a managed-care plan offered by Johns Hopkins to military families and sponsored by the Department of Defense. They receive care at Johns Hopkins Community Physicians at Frederick, where Leann is a certified medical assistant.

The USFHP, Leann says, offers accessible care, which is especially important since the clinic on the post recently was closed to all but active-duty new patients. She was drawn to the plan because it offers access to top-flight Hopkins specialists. “It’s very comforting to know that Leilani and I will be well cared for when Kevin is away.”

The USFHP is available not just to families of active-duty military, National Guard and reservists, but also to military retirees and their eligible family members, including those 65 and over. Members of the USFHP at Johns Hopkins receive primary care at any one of JHCP’s 15 primary care practices. The plan covers nearly 24,000 members in central Maryland and surrounding areas in Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. (Five more not-for-profit health care organizations sponsor USFHP in other areas throughout the country.) But with an estimated 160,000 additional eligible beneficiaries in this area, it’s clear there’s room to grow.

The time seems right. Base closings elsewhere are expected to bring thousands to Maryland installations. Because so many medical personnel have been deployed to Iraq, access to military treatment facilities, where they once worked, is increasingly limited. Many, like Fort Detrick, are no longer accepting retirees or family members, and one, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, will relocate medical services to the Walter Reed National Medical Center when it is established on the grounds of the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda.

“We have to reach out to more families,” says Mary Cooke, USFHP vice president, “especially those who live farther to the south in Prince Georges County or just a little too far from one of our JHCP sites.”

JH HealthCare’s Mary Cooke leads the USFHP.

Cooke administers the plan out of the Glen Burnie-based Johns Hopkins HealthCare, command central for USFHP operations, including customer service and other managed-care support. She is passionate about providing quality care to military families. “They deserve the best, and Hopkins is in a position to provide the best.”

To get the message out, a marketing campaign is in full swing. Leading the charge is the Office of Corporate Communications’ Pat Davis, marketing director for the USFHP. Enrollment now is open year round. Five part-time field service reps now work right on the installations, attending activities like newcomer receptions, health fairs and family picnics. “Our job is to let beneficiaries know that the plan is available to them,” says OCC’s field service manager, Ed Cramer, a retired military intelligence officer.

Growth has been slow but steady. In the past two years, the plan has added more than 1,600 members. But 200 enrollees, on average, leave the plan each month, usually because they are transferred out of the area.

Complicating matters is Health Net, one of the nation’s largest managed care companies. In a recent reorganization, Health Net, one of the military health system’s three managed care support contractors, entered the Maryland region and now is marketing to area families. “We’re all talking to the same group,” Cramer acknowledges. “Our job is to make sure people know what their choices are and let them decide what’s best for them.”

The good news is that satisfaction among USFHP’s national enrollees is soaring. Rated at 87 percent, the plan’s score is 25 percent higher than the national average for HMOs, as reported last summer by the National Committee for Quality Assurance.

Several months ago, William Winkenwerder, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, spent a day with JHM leadership on the East Baltimore campus, where he got a taste of important institutional initiatives. The visit, Health System President Ron Peterson recently told a group of Hopkins Hospital managers and supervisors, could signal more collaboration between Hopkins Medicine and the Department of Defense.

Meanwhile, JHCP is gearing up for more business. Barbara Cook, the organization’s president, says five practices-- Odenton, Howard County, Montgomery County, Hagerstown and White Marsh—have recently expanded.

“At our flagship practice at Wyman Park, we’ve been taking care of military retirees since the 1980s,” says Cook. “Some are now in their 80s and 90s. It’s been wonderful to work with them and give them the best care we can. Many of our retirees were full-time military. They served their country. Now it’s our turn to give back to them.”

Anne Bennett Swingle

Hopkins Medicine and the Military

Johns Hopkins’ history of providing health care to the military here at home began in 1981 when seven U.S. Public Health Service hospitals were transferred to private health care entities with the stipulation that they continue to care for uniformed services beneficiaries through their federal designation as Uniformed Services Treatment Facilities. When the Baltimore U.S. Public Health Service hospital closed, the Wyman Park Health System was established and subsequently acquired by the Johns Hopkins Health System in 1986.

In 1993, the Department of Defense reorganized these facilities into the Uniformed Services Family Health Plan. It was the first DoD-sponsored, full-risk managed health care plan and the first to serve military beneficiaries 65 and over.

The USFHP is a permanent part of the military health system known as TRICARE. Next year, it will celebrate its 25th anniversary, and in 2008, Johns Hopkins’ five-year contract with the Department of Defense will come up for renewal.



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