May 17, 2007


Unions, county agree to health plan: County: Savings of $1M isn't 'excess money' (Kristopher Wenn, May 16, 2007, Manitowoc Herald Times)

Union-represented county employees voted on Monday to accept health insurance coverage projected to save county government about $1.1 million in 2008 — a critically important reversal after employee insurance costs increased 130 percent since 2000.

"… This agreement brings hope for the very first time to taxpayers that the growth of health insurance costs will be contained into the future," County Executive Bob Ziegelbauer said in a written statement.

"We've agreed to accept health savings accounts as a Band-Aid to help stop the bleeding caused by a national crisis in health care affordability and accessibly," Neil Rainford, staff representative for AFSCME Council 40, said in his own press release.

From clipboards to keyboards: America's health-care industry has been slow to adopt information technology (The Economist, May 17th 2007)

The federal government is giving a push to EMRs, following the lead of the Veterans' Health Administration (VHA). Studies have shown that thanks in large part to its sophisticated national database, the VHA has fewer patient errors and better health outcomes than the health system at large, despite the fact that its patients tend to be older, poorer and sicker. George Bush wants a system of universal health-records by 2015. And Medicare, the government-run health scheme for pensioners, is shifting to a tiered reimbursement system in which it pays doctors more if they go electronic.

Employers are also keen on technology, since it promises to curb health-care costs and improve efficiency. [...]

Intuit, known for its accounting software, is convinced the market is ready for health-care software too. But when it tested such a product last year, it found that users were frustrated at having to fill in so many forms and search for bills and records to which they did not have easy access. So it now plans to offer its software in conjunction with health insurers, so that payment data and other information can be filled in automatically.

Aetna, a big insurance firm, has taken a different path by acquiring ActiveHealth, a firm that provides EMRs for around 14.5m users and also scours those health records with decision-support software to spot signs of trouble (such as missed doctors' appointments or early warnings of obesity). Aetna plans to offer this software to its own customers.

Others also hope to cash in on the expected health-care technology boom. Around 120 firms, from Panasonic and Cisco to Kaiser Permanente, have formed the Continua Health Alliance to promote open standards and interoperability among consumer-health products. Banks are licking their chops at the prospect of “health savings accounts”, and Intuit and WebMD are devising software to manage them. The prognosis for the wider adoption of technology in health-care is finally starting to look more promising.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 17, 2007 7:55 PM
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