FROM OUR READERS: Merger will benefit health care customers

In the early 1970s, I opened my private cardiology practice here in Las Vegas. I entered the health care profession with the objective of providing the best medical care I could at an affordable price to the residents of southern Nevada. I founded Sierra Health Services a decade later with the same objective. The company, now more than 25 years later, continues to meet this promise.

I want to assure my fellow Nevadans that this same commitment to providing high-quality and affordable health care is the driving force behind our announced merger with national industry leader UnitedHealth Group.

Nevadans know Sierra Health Services. Sierra has become the state’s leading provider of health benefits and services, serving some 640,000 members statewide, most of them in Southern Nevada.

To explain why this merger is good for our members, employees and local businesses, let me start by explaining what will change and what will not.

The changes are for the better. Thanks to UnitedHealth’s national network of doctors and hospitals, Sierra’s customers will have more choices when deciding which providers to utilize. This will help members avoid higher “out-of-network” costs — at home or traveling out of state.

For example, when a Sierra member visiting New York ends up in a hospital, our members currently pay higher out-of-network charges for that hospital stay because Sierra lacks provider contracts in New York that would allow for lower, in-network charges. After the merger, we can utilize the contracted rate UnitedHealth has with that New York facility, which could significantly reduce the cost per day for the same services. UnitedHealthcare’s national network consists of more than 4,700 hospitals and 535,000 doctors and other health care professionals.

Another change will see Sierra’s customers benefiting from technologies pioneered by UnitedHealth, which has invested more than $3 billion in new technology in recent years to enhance quality and safety for members and physicians, all while streamlining administration. Nevada members will join 20 million UnitedHealthcare customers who have electronic ID cards that automatically update their health records and make it easier for patients and physicians to access the information they contain.

UnitedHealth also brings strong financial resources, allowing us to invest in the development of an even greater array of new products and services. The broad expansion of benefit plans and services will allow us to become more attractive to key employers, eager to establish a foothold in Nevada, or move their corporate operations to the state.

I believe this merger will also serve the best interests of our local physicians and providers. Their affiliation with UnitedHealth will open access to the company’s unique data collection capabilities, resulting in more opportunities to study best practices and to continue to improve the quality of care delivered in the state.

Just as important, consider what stays the same after the merger:

— Same local presence and leadership. Since we agree local accountability is critical, Sierra’s headquarters will remain in Las Vegas. The company will continue operating under its current local leadership, accountable to the communities we serve.

— Same brand, benefits and services. It will be business as usual for Sierra members. While we add additional health benefit products through UnitedHealth, Sierra’s existing portfolio of programs, products and services will remain. There will be no interruptions to benefits and services, and Sierra members can expect the same quality care to which they have become accustomed over the past 25 years.

— Same business model. Sierra and UnitedHealth are committed to continuing our integrated model of delivering quality care through a broad range of medical providers, as well as through our Southwest Medical Associates network of clinics. This model will be enhanced by the advanced technology in which UnitedHealth has invested over the past two decades.

— Same commitment to Nevada. Both companies take pride in contributing to their communities. In fact, the company plans to continue its active corporate citizenship, through ongoing support of worthy causes in Nevada, especially those that promote good health.

The key to Sierra’s success these past 25 years has always been our exceptional people and their promise to provide consumers affordable, quality health care. This merger represents the next step in continuing that promise as we strive to meet the health care needs of our rapidly growing population.

Dr. Anthony M. Marlon is founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Sierra Health Services Inc.

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