Premier Medical Associates hires Dr. Peter Hauber

A big Monroeville-based physician’s practice is poised to get bigger still, with the hiring of its first behavioral health specialist and four more primary care doctors ready to sign on.

Highmark Inc. affiliate Premier Medical Associates this month hired Dr. Peter Hauber to practice psychiatry at Premier’s Monroeville offices. Three therapists are expected to work with Hauber, said Executive Director Mark DeRubeis. What’s more, four more primary care doctors are ready or already have agreed to join Premier.

“We are actively recruiting for all major specialties,” DeRubeis said. “We’re expanding our primary care base. We will grow to meet demand.”

Premier has 16 offices and 61 doctors, including 35 adult primary care doctors and 13 hospitalists. Adding a psychiatrist was necessary because behavioral health problems such as depression are a factor in many physical ailments, DeRubeis said. And with the anticipated staff additions, Premier will have pretty much filled out its footprint.

“Our goal is to offer a critical connection that will help people deal with mental health challenges that can impact their primary care and overall well-being,” Hauber said in a prepared statement.

Highmark is planning outpatient medical centers and medical malls around Pittsburgh, and Premier doctors are expected to help fill those spaces. But Premier’s growth will hinge on the practice’s success in increasing volume through public awareness of Premier’s edge in patient care, DeRubeis said.

In recent months, Premier has tried to raise its public profile through a billboard advertising campaign in Pittsburgh’s eastern suburbs. And Highmark is in a position to raise Premier’s profile as well, although no specific plans have been announced.

Family practice physicians and other primary care doctors are the front line in emerging reimbursement models, including patient-centered medical homes, which Premier adopted at all of its offices.

A medical home is essentially a coordinated, team approach to patient care, which is designed to reduce unnecessary and costly hospitalizations through aggressive disease prevention and management. In the standard fee-for-service arrangement, doctors mostly are rewarded for volume or number of procedures performed, regardless of how well the patient does.

“We believe patient-centered medical home is better care,” DeRubeis said. “But it’s something that patients need to learn more about before they gravitate to it.”

Although the health care reform law is driving alternate reimbursement methods, including accountable care organizations and the medical home, fee-for-service is still the biggest revenue source for doctors. For this reason, critics have questioned the long-term viability of the medical home, which is more costly to operate than a traditional medical practice because of the additional staff required.

In addition, the Supreme Court’s consideration of a constitutional challenge to the health care reform law has cast doubt on the future of such alternative reimbursement methods. But regardless of what the Supreme Court rules, the medical home concept will survive, according to John Nimsky, vice president at Washington-based consulting firm Gorman Health Group.

In medical homes, doctors generally share savings for meeting quality of care metrics. Doctors also can receive a flat monthly payment per member for providing a host of services.

But the medical home model doesn’t depend on any one reimbursement method, Nimsky said. In addition, practices that shift to the medical home model will continue to get paid under the fee-for-service plan.