Two health systems and their affiliated insurance companies are exploring a strategic partnership in Wisconsin. This is yet another example of the trend of consolidation among health care providers and insurance companies.

UW Health and UnityPoint Health announced two non-binding letters of intent regarding a future joint operating agreement last month. One letter describes a plan to “create an integrated clinical enterprise with a shared strategic direction.” The second letter describes a possible combination of the two organization’s insurance companies. These include UnityPoint Health’s Physicians Plus Insurance Corporation, UW Health’s Unity Health Insurance, and Unity Health’s recent partner, Gundersen Health Plan.


UW Health is the integrated health system of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It includes four hospitals in Madison and two in Northern Illinois, as well as clinics throughout Wisconsin and Northern Illinois. Also included in the system are the UW Medical Foundation, UW Carbone Cancer Center, and Unity Health Insurance Company. Unity Health closed on a merger agreement with Onalaska-based Gundersen Health Plan in May 2016.

Although its name is similar to UW Health’s insurance affiliate, UnityPoint Health is a separate entity. Formerly known as Iowa Health System, UnityPoint Health is the 13th largest nonprofit health system in the country. The integrated health system is headquartered in West Des Moines, Iowa. It operates 17 hospitals and more than 280 clinics in Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, and Wisconsin.

Madison’s Meriter Hospital joined UnityPoint Health in 2014 and changed its name to UnityPoint Health-Meriter earlier this year. UnityPoint Health is also the parent organization of Madison-based Physicians Plus Insurance Corporation. The Physicians Plus provider network included both Meriter and UW Health providers even before last month’s agreement.

Notably, UW Health and Gundersen Health System are both members of the AboutHealth Accountable Care Organization (ACO). UnityPoint Health is not currently a member of a Wisconsin based ACO. UW and Meriter’s local competition, Dean Clinic and St. Mary’s Hospital, are members of AboutHealth competitor Integrated Health Network (IHN).

Future Plans

The first letter of intent addresses hospital collaboration between Meriter and UW. Meriter’s specialty physicians will join UW Health over time. A joint operating agreement will also be drafted to align financial operations and enhance coordination of patient care. Although the letters envision close alignment between the organizations, UnityPoint-Meriter will retain its affiliation with UnityPoint Health.

The second letter of intent addressed the possible combination of Physicians Plus, Unity, and Gundersen. All three recognize the need to expand their geographic footprint in order to remain competitive in today’s consolidated insurance market. Although a combined enterprise would lack a statewide provider network, it would be more attractive to employers and individuals in the south central and western Wisconsin regions than the limited networks the companies offer today.

More information on the partnership is available at