The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and UnitedHealthcare have launched a pilot to explore a new bundled payment model for head and neck cancers that focuses on quality patient care and outcomes.

MD Anderson officials said the collaboration is among the first using bundled payments in a large, comprehensive cancer center. The three-year pilot will be conducted in MD Anderson’s Head and Neck Center for up to 150 patients newly diagnosed with cancers of the salivary glands, oral cavity (including the mouth, lips, tongue, soft palate), throat and larynx, and who are enrolled in certain employer-sponsored benefit plans insured or administered by UnitedHealthcare.

Eight bundled payment models have been developed for the program; each model was developed for the research-based clinical practices and protocols that have been created and refined over decades at the cancer center. The program is based on MD Anderson’s extensive mapping of the tests, treatments, follow-up care and supportive services required for the most common head and neck cancer diagnoses.

"The pre-priced payment provides an incentive to focus on the essential elements of care and to avoid unnecessary steps," MD Anderson executives said. "This careful mapping is expected to produce improved patient outcomes, lower costs, and a better quality of life for patients."

UnitedHealthcare launched a similar pilot in 2010 involving 810 breast, colon and lung cancer patients who were treated at five medical oncology groups around the United States. The July 2014 issue of the Journal of Oncology Practice featured the results of that study, which showed cancer costs were cut by a third and quality was improved. Those results prompted UnitedHealthcare to expand the bundled payment model and explore more complete models like the one at MD Anderson.

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