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Insurance Companies Are Already Courting E-Patients

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I spent the day at Health 2.0 conference in the Bay Area. This is the third year of the conference, and it has grown from a fringe group of early adopters and application developers to a bona fide e-patient movement, probably spurred by the broken health care system.

Health plans already know that whatever versions of Obama’s reform plan are passed, they will be dealing more with consumers and less with employers in the future. They are are investing in the tools to do a more subtle form of medical management than they did in the ’80s, when the HMO movement became known for the dreaded “gatekeeper” concept of denying care. During the heyday of this concept, health care costs escalated about 25% over a decade.

However, consumers became so angry that in 1999, one of the largest payers, UnitedHealth Group, said it would do no more medical management. All other plans had to follow suit, and with no effective medical management, health plan costs exploded 60% between 2000 and 2007. 20% of all commercial plan enrollees have been priced out of coverage, and now health plans have decided to be proactive again and turn back to management. But this time, they are trying to shift the paradigm and get the patient to be the manager.

Health Innovation’s Jerry Reeves, the medical director for union plans across the country, says hospitalizations are no longer the key drivers of rising costs. Costs are now being driven by ambulatory settings like ERs, outpatient settings, imaging centers, and the outsourcing of diagnostic activities outside the physicians office. A doctor visit would be the low cost solution, but people are not getting access to physicians’ offices, and wind up in the ER, which costs 13x as much to deliver the same services. In addition, Reeves said people are not getting lifesaving treatments and things they really need, because the system is so broken. He is trying to move to value-based health care.

Mohan Nair is a serial entrepreneur now with Regence BCBS, a four-state plan that has been working for last 6 years to help the system change.

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This is really interesting information - thank you. The health care industry is in the middle of perhaps it's great upheaval yet. I'm capitalistic, by nature, I think. But I have never understood why health care and pharmaceutical industries are motivated primarily for profit. The healthcare company I worked for had it's slogan for the annual conference as "Business First" and many of us were shaking our heads. You can't even pretend that it's customer care first? Or patient first? I think it's possible (and ethical) to make some money in this industry. We all have to live, right? And hard work deserves good compensation. But when profit is the driving motivation of healthcare (specifically healthcare, because I don't consider it a business like any other - it is not) then everybody loses, except perhaps, those at the top. And that's not good enough.

October 7, 2009 - 12:03pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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