"Geisinger just kept rising to the top. They responded so effectively to our inquiries," Tilton said.
Alan Zuckerman, president of Health Strategies & Solutions Inc. of Philadelphia and a national health-care expert, said AtlantiCare and Geisinger were both strong operators and the merger talks were not about immediate financial needs.
"This is a response to health reform and the need to move into a higher level of providing value to your customers and being able to manage population health," Zuckerman said.
Geisinger, based in Danville, Pa., has four acute-care hospitals, a group practice of more than 1,000 physicians, and a health insurance plan with 448,000 members. Geisinger employs 20,800.
Adding AtlantiCare is an opportunity to see "how we can scale and generalize some of our innovations to other markets through other health-care providers," said Frank J. Trembulak, Geisinger's executive vice president and chief operating officer.
Trembulak said Geisinger has been predicting consolidation for four or five years. The nonprofit has been doing its part, completing a merger with Lewistown Hospital in Lewistown, Pa., on Nov. 31 and signing a letter of intent with the Sisters of Christian Charity Health Care Corp. in Camp Hill, Pa., in September.