Peter Beilenson: Health Care Hero

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Peter Beilenson was chosen as an Utne Reader visionary in 2011. Each year Utne Reader puts forward its selection of world visionaries–people who don’t just concoct great ideas but also act on them.

Peter Beilenson Online Extras | 2011 Visionaries Home Page

Imagine that you’re suffering from chest pains. You visit a doctor who does an EKG, then refers you to a cardiologist who does even more tests (for which you and your insurance company pay dearly). When the results are tallied–six expensive, uncomfortable weeks after your initial visit–you’re prescribed heartburn medication.

Now imagine visiting, instead, a health care cooperative as envisioned by Peter Beilenson, founder of the Evergreen Project in Baltimore. Your primary care physician administers an EKG, then emails it to a consulting cardiologist. The doctors talk via Skype, and you leave the office that day with an affordable bill and recommendations to buy over-the-counter heartburn pills and talk to the on-site health care coach.

The Evergreen Project, inspired by a provision in the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, is Beilenson’s brilliantly commonsensical idea: co-ops that both cut costs and provide excellent health care. Each co-op would include roughly 50 clinics, five regional specialty centers, and an insurance company. Each patient would have a dedicated doctor and support team. Physicians would be salaried rather than paid per service, eliminating the incentive to perform unnecessary procedures, and they would bear half the typical patient load.

“We’re counting on the fact that by giving doctors time to spend with patients and providing holistic care, we’ll get better outcomes,” says Beilenson, Baltimore’s former health commissioner.

The Evergreen Project is on track to form a prototype care team in Baltimore by year’s end and open the first fully operating co-op in 2014. If the project becomes a national model, you may one day experience a different world at the doctor’s office.

Peter Beilenson Online Extras | 2011 Visionaries Home Page

Have something to say? Send a letter to This article first appeared in the November-December 2011 issue of Utne Reader.

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