CareFirst to give incentives to primary care physicians

State health officials have approved a plan by CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield to reward primary physicians for improving health outcomes for patients.

The insurance company is the first in the state to be approved by the Maryland Health Care Commission for the "single payer" medical home initiative.

The program is designed to encourage doctors who participate to focus on treating the sickest patients. The insurance company hopes that if people visit primary care physicians, illness would be caught and treated early. This in turn would prevent more serious — and costly — conditions down the road.

It is a popular concept being promoted by federal health care reform as well.

Under the CareFirst program, doctors form panels or practices of five to 20 primary care physicians so they can pool resources to treat patients.

Doctors who participate can receive incentives by three methods:

• A 12 percent increase in reimbursements upon enrollment

• Additional fees for better engagement with their patients

• Higher reimbursement fees for developing care plans for patients with chronic or multiple chronic conditions

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