News of the Day ... In Perspective12/31/2005
Patients become customers: trends to watch in 2006
The way to diminish medical spending is to turn patients into value-conscious customers, say health insurers and employers.
A major difficulty is that the most important piece of information—the price—is difficult or impossible to determine.
Cigna and Aetna have pilot programs to make certain prices available in a few markets. UnitedHealth Group is trying a “value coach” program to help consumers evaluate their options in terms of both medical issues and relative costs.
To encourage patients to visit doctors who perform “cost-efficient” care, insurers are setting up “high-performance” networks. Patients who choose other doctors will pay more out of pocket.
Companies that offer Health Savings Accounts are adding options such as a credit line and “smart” features. Such features may permit handling more than one account such as an HAS and a flexible spending account, or may prevent them from using the cards to buy items not considered eligible health expenses by the IRS.
More financial institutions, including Fidelity Investments and American Express, will be offering HSAs, joining other major newcomers such as Bank of America. Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans have announced intentions to charter a joint bank (Sarah Rubenstein, Wall Street Journal 12/27/05).
“Payment for Value,” AAPS News, December 2005
“Paying for Medical Care,” AAPS News, October 2005