Good News All Around

Assurant Health, which markets health insurance to individuals and small groups, has produced new data on who is buying Health Savings Accounts: The good news we’ve seen in earlier surveys by this company – and others – continues to hold true.

HSAs are increasingly attractive to the uninsured: 44% of people applying for an HSA with Assurant did not report having prior insurance coverage, up from 40% in the company’s last survey. In addition:

  • 70% of HSA purchasers are families with children
  • 60% are over age 40
  • 29% of HSA purchasers have incomes of less than $50,000 a year.

The data speaks for itself in answering the critics.

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AOL founder Steve Case announced on Wednesday that his new venture, Revolution Health Group, has bought six new start-up companies in its drive “to build the leading, comprehensive consumer-driven health company?with more choices, more convenience, and more control” for consumers.

The consumer-driven health care movement can’t take off unless consumers have better and more easily accessible information to help with their health care decisions, and this company offers a vital link to the movement’s success.

Four of the new acquisitions will provide information through Revolution’s new web-portal:

  • MyDNA Media, which offers health news and information
  • 1-800-Schedule, which helps consumers find doctors and schedule appointments
  • Simo Software, which helps consumers manage their health spending and records
  • Wondir, Inc., a search engine that helps consumers find and exchange information about health needs and issues.

Revolution also has bought a controlling stake in two more companies: ConnectYourCare, which offers HSA management, including an integrated debit card and other consumer-support tools; and Extend Benefits LLC, which helps companies develop individualized health plans.

Finally, Revolution is investing in InterFit Health and is providing the capital to support its roll-out of “RediClinics” in stores like Wal-Mart based on the MinuteClinic model. (See article below for more about these convenient care centers.)

Early this year, Revolution Health was mostly Steve Case’s vision. And starting in early 2006, the company will be a reality with a range of consumer-friendly products to become “the leading online resource for health care.” The Revolution has indeed begun!

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I love the marketplace for its creativity in finding a way around cumbersome government rules:

Consumer Driven Healthcare newsletter reports that several companies are offering a new web-based service to keep families and friends up to date on the progress of loved ones who are sick or hospitalized.

You may recall that because of new HIPAA federal privacy regulations, it’s almost impossible to get information on the condition of a hospital patient. Nurses can answer the phone, but they can’t tell you anything. Enter an innovative solution:

CaringBridge and CarePages are among several new companies that offer free, personal, private Web pages that help family and friends communicate when someone is receiving care.

Families love the service because they can post pictures of new babies, report on the results of surgeries to loved ones, and provide a way for far-away friends to post get well messages.

About 70% of CaringBridge’s sites are created for sick or injured children. CarePage has an average of 50 visitors per site, each of whom visits a page an average of 20 times.

Hospitals love the new services too because they divert what would otherwise be a flood of calls to nurses to the web page instead.

You really have to love this free-to-the-user innovation which offers interactivity and a way for patients and families to get up-to-the minute information with minimal hassle to family caregivers.

Whatever the question, better information is almost always the answer. This is just one more example of a consumer-friendly marketplace at work.

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More than 230 executives of state-based think tanks met in Charleston last weekend at the fifth annual meeting of the State Policy Network, displaying the incredible talent, dedication, and the growing presence of free-market thinkers throughout the country.

Our friend Jon Caldara, the activist president of the Independence Institute in Colorado, received the prestigious Roe Award for his work in changing not only the policy landscape in his state but for spreading ideas, such as the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, throughout the country.

SPN President Tracie Sharp invited me to chair a seminar on Medicaid – a huge issue for our colleagues because it threatens to swallow up their state budgets and crowd-out other needs.

Robert Kerr, HHS director for South Carolina, and Alan Levine, Florida’s health care administrator, described their consumer-focused Medicaid reform plans, giving everyone hope that ideas of injecting competition and choice into government health programs can take hold. It’s important to get started so they can show other states the way to inject consumerism into public programs as well.

Grace-Marie Turner

RECENT NEWS ARTICLES AND STUDIES:

  • A healthy construction model
  • Take care of yourself: Employers embrace consumerism to control healthcare costs
  • In praise of U.S. health care
  • Mother wins fight with health chiefs for cancer drugs
  • Getting your health care at Wal-Mart
  • Medicaid’s code red

A HEALTHY CONSTRUCTION MODEL
Author: Congressman Bobby Jindal
Source: National Review Online, 10/04/05

Hurricane Katrina “unveiled a broken health-care system in deterioration for years” in Louisiana, writes Congressman Bobby Jindal. He writes that it is important to now ask, “Who do we want to be in charge of making health-care decisions? Do we want the same bureaucracy that botched initial relief efforts? Or empowered patients working with their physicians to personalize health-care needs?” He recommends refundable tax credits, state-run purchasing pools, health reimbursement arrangements, and health savings accounts to make it easier to purchase private health insurance. “We must have consumer-driven health care which allows each patient to make the best choices for their individual needs,” concludes Congressman Jindal.
Full text: www.nationalreview.com

TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF: EMPLOYERS EMBRACE CONSUMERISM TO CONTROL HEALTHCARE COSTS
Source: PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Health Research Institute, 10/03/05

New findings show “a major change under way as employers embrace consumerism to help them control healthcare costs,” according to a comprehensive review of consumer-directed healthcare trends just released by PricewaterhouseCoopers. The report includes results of a nationwide survey of nearly 150 CEOs from a broad geographic and industry spectrum and found that 90% of American workers do not have a choice of health plans and that they “are as many as four steps removed from the cost and payment of care.”

Most survey respondents agreed that making employees pay a higher percentage of healthcare costs, as well as providing financial incentives for employee participation in healthy lifestyle programs, would help reduce their company’s healthcare costs. And 80% of companies said costs could be reduced by providing employees with more information about healthcare quality and prices, yet only 38% currently provide regularly updated information. The report provides examples of how companies are using consumer-directed health plans, along with other components of consumerism, like preventive services, and wellness and disease management programs, “to provide employees with more information regarding the quality and costs of the providers they visit and the services they use.”
Full text (free registration required): healthcare.pwc.com

IN PRAISE OF U.S. HEALTH CARE
Author: Michael Tanner
Source: The Washington Times, 10/01/05

When diagnosed with prostate cancer, Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute says he was fortunate to live in a country with a free-market health care system because “[i]n most countries with national health insurance, the preferred treatment for prostate cancer is … to do nothing,” he writes. “Less than 1 in 5 American men with prostate cancer will die from it, but 57 percent of British men and nearly half of French and German men will,” writes Tanner. All national health care systems ration care either by denying types of treatment or imposing other cost constraints. Tanner warns those calling for a national health care system in the U.S. that “[m]ore regulation, subsidies and control would simply drain the medical market of the quality, dynamism and innovation that saves lives.”
Full text: www.washtimes.com

MOTHER WINS FIGHT WITH HEALTH CHIEFS FOR CANCER DRUGS
Author: David Sanderson
Source: The Times, 10/04/05

A British cancer patient has won a legal battle against the country’s National Health Service allowing her to get the cancer drug Herceptin, despite an earlier decision by her local health authority not to fund her treatment, reports The Times. Nurse Barbara Cook “had vowed to take her case to the European Court of Human Rights if her application?had been unsuccessful.” Herceptin had been licensed in the U.K. only for late-stage breast cancer that already had spread. Those who wanted it earlier would have to pay privately, about ?21,800 for a course of treatment. Health officials agreed the state would pay for Herceptin for her due to her “exceptional circumstances” (Ms. Cook has a terminally ill foster child). As a result of her case, the NHS late this week announced that it would provide broader access to the drug, estimated to save the lives of 1,000 women a year in Britain.
Full text: women.timesonline.co.uk

GETTING YOUR HEALTH CARE AT WAL-MART
Author: Jane Spencer
Source: The Wall Street Journal, 10/05/05

“In a development that has broad implications for the nation’s primary-care system, a rising number of major pharmacy and retail chains – including CVS Corp., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Target Corp. – are opening in-store health clinics,” reports The Wall Street Journal. Typically staffed by nurse practitioners, the clinics don’t require an appointment and offer routine medical services, like strep throat tests and flu shots. “Health insurers have embraced the concept because the clinics promise considerable savings,” writes the Journal. A visit for a basic illness usually costs under $60 at one of the clinics, versus about $110 for a doctor’s visit or more than $300 in an emergency room.
Full text (subscription required): online.wsj.com

MEDICAID’S CODE RED
Author: Louis Richman
Source: The New York Times, 10/02/05

Several state Medicaid programs were in the news this week:

  • Fraud prevention efforts in New York State will be reviewed by the federal government next month. In an opinion piece for The New York Times, Louis Richman warns that in order to fix New York’s massive Medicaid program, it needs to be “fundamentally rethought.”
  • In Massachusetts, “[t]he US government is warning that it may stop sending as much as $385 million in Medicaid money it gives to Massachusetts annually if the state fails to pass healthcare legislation by early next year,” according to the Boston Globe.
  • And Vermont has begun to implement its Global Commitment to Health program, “in which the state has agreed to cap federal Medicaid funding over the next five years, [to] give state officials unprecedented flexibility to manage the health insurance program for the poor and begin to control costs,” according to the Associated Press.

New York: www.nytimes.com
Massachusetts: www.boston.com
Vermont: www.washingtontimes.com

UPCOMING EVENT:

Kaiser Conversations on Health with Aetna CEO Dr. John Rowe
Kaiser Family Foundation Event
Thursday, October 20, 2005, Noon – 1 p.m. E.T.
Washington, DC and via Webcast

The event will take place in the Foundation’s Barbara Jordan Conference Center and will be open to the public. If you wish to attend, please RSVP to Tiffany Ford at tford@kff.org or (202) 347-5270.A link to the live webcast of the event will be available online at: www.kaisernetwork.org starting at noon E.T.

Health Policy Matters is a weekly newsletter containing summaries of timely and informative studies and articles on free-market health reform. It features research and writings by participants in the Health Policy Consensus Group, articles of interest from the health policy world, and announcements of coming events. Health Policy Matters is published by the Galen Institute, a not-for-profit public policy organization specializing in information and education on health policy. For more information about the newsletter and our organization, please visit our website at http://www.galen.org/.

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The views expressed in this newsletter are the opinions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Galen Institute or its directors.

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