Wednesday, October 21, 2009

It’s Getting Better, Part 3

In my last few blog entries, I’ve been writing about how health insurance has improved over the past 5 years. I’ve cited examples of technological innovations and of initiatives that have helped consumers take greater control of their own health and health care.

Perhaps the most significant improvement in health insurance over the past few years has been the greater emphasis on prevention. People who don’t get sick not only are healthier, they also spend less on their health care.

Here are some of the most important recent improvements in health insurance that involve prevention of disease:
  • Wellness programs. From smoke cessation to exercise, from weight loss to managing diabetes, consumers now have a wealth of wellness programs available through their health insurance plan and/or their employer.
  • Health care advice over the phone. A number of insurance plans now offer health care advice over the phone. In the typical service such as NurseLine or one of UnitedHealthcare’s disease management programs, a nurse with experience can help the consumer find a doctor or hospital, understand treatment options and get medical questions answered.
  • Health care coupons. Some health care plans have begun offering discount programs that enable covered employees to get discounts of up to 50 percent on health care products and services, including lasik surgery, smoking-cessation programs, gym memberships and even fitness apparel.

I’ve mentioned 9 improvements, all of which share some common themes. For one thing, they all tend to save money while improving care. But beyond that holy grail of raising quality while lowering costs, we can see these other trends I’ve mentioned:

  • Many innovations such as real-time adjudication and swipe cards reflect the opportunity that new technology presents for streamlining and thereby cutting the cost of administering health care.
  • Some innovations such as personal health records and physician rankings tend to educate consumers and get them more involved in making health care decisions.
  • Running through many of these innovations, such as wellness programs and health care coupons, is a strong element of preventive medicine.

No matter what shape health care reform takes, I think we can take it for granted that these themes-technology, personal responsibility and prevention-will lead to a completely new list of innovations in just a few years.

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