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Deborah C. Enos, 56, has been chief executive of Boston-based Neighborhood Health Plan since 2004. The nonprofit insures more than 240,000 mostly low-income residents across Massachusetts. Last month, it agreed to be acquired by Partners HealthCare System, the state’s largest hospital and physicians network. Enos spoke with Globe reporter Robert Weisman.

Neighborhood Health Plan has tried to address the issue of health care inequality. What is the nature of the disparity in health care you see in different income and racial groups?

Research has shown it manifests itself in a number of areas: with respect to access to care and services, with respect to variations in how providers treat and prescribe for different groups, and the resulting outcomes. Certain disease categories are more prevalent, are more virulent in certain ethnic and racial groups.


Are the disparities growing worse or getting better?

Unfortunately, I don’t think they’re getting better in the aggregate. Some of our economic challenges have contributed to that. There are pockets where it has improved, and we at NHP have seen that with some of the work we have done in Boston and its neighborhoods.

You recently signed an agreement to be acquired by Partners HealthCare System after 25 years of independence. What will that merger do for Neighborhood Health Plan and its members?

There are a number of benefits for Neighborhood Health Plan. One benefit of the affiliation is a strengthening of our ability to serve more people. Number two, there is an opportunity for the community health centers through a [Partners] grant program that will be developed to expand. The third, which I think is really the most exciting part, is to bring together those three parties - the community health centers, Partners HealthCare, and Neighborhood Health Plan - to develop new and innovative approaches to caring for the populations we share. We’re looking at the area of chronic disease, we’re looking at the area of health disparities.


Do you expect your members will have better access to Partners hospitals, such as Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women’s?

Yes, we actually do have contractual arrangements in place now with Partners HealthCare for all of our members, those who are covered through our public programs but also through our commercial programs. So that’s part of what we do now, and that will continue. But there will also be access to the rest of our provider network.

The majority of your members receive coverage through state programs such as Medicaid and Commonwealth Care. How will anticipated state and federal budget cuts affect reimbursements for those patients?

It will be very challenging. It’s challenging already. Neighborhood Health Plan as well as all of the other major health plans and providers who work with public-funded membership have experienced very challenging fiscal circumstances, which is the result of the state’s finances. And that is not getting better. Clearly, with some of the thoughts and ideas on the horizon on the federal level, I think it is going to be more challenging. It gives us more impetus to look for new and innovative ways of delivering the same level of quality and service to our membership.

As the health care industry consolidates, do you see the new alignments serving the health care needs of low-income and minority residents?

There are some incredible opportunities. There are the key health care services, medical services, behavioral health services. But it’s equally important to have outreach, patient education, what we call social care services. Many of the new alliances will bring those areas together in a way that will make it easier for individuals to navigate the system.


Limited and tiered network plans are cropping up in the state insurance programs and in commercial health plans. Are these the wave of the future?

There’s clearly a place for them, and I think we will see more and more growth in the area of limited networks and tiered networks. There’s a role for that with NHP, and we do currently offer an array of [limited and tiered] products both on the public side and in our commercial products.