Blues Plans Unroll Personal Health Record, Cost Savings

A new Internet-based application being launched by the nation's Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) plans allows insureds to access their health information online and may yield significant cost savings for employers as well.

Wellpoint's 360 Degree Health, which was piloted in New York in May 2005, is being rolled out across all of Wellpoint's BCBS plans, beginning with Georgia, over the past several weeks, and Virginia in September, according to Daniel Salinas, M.D., medical director for BCBS of Georgia. The consent-driven program includes an integrated suite that allows people to access health and wellness information and provides health experts and additional tools such as utilization management and case and disease management, Salinas says.

Wellpoint, which is the nation's largest health benefits plan and owns 14 BCBS plans across the country, will populate the program with patient claims data. In 2004, Wellpoint purchased Lumenos, one of the country's largest consumer-driven health plans, which aim to reduce utilization by making patients aware of claims costs.

"The government sees that electronic medical records are required in the industry, and this is our response to the president's plan for all Americans to have their own personal health record by 2014," says Caroline Holley, spokesperson for BCBS of Georgia.

To date, the $100 million investment by Wellpoint has yielded cost savings to employers and greater utility for beneficiaries. During the Empire BCBS pilot in New York, for instance, employers such as Xerox saw a two-to-one return on investment, Holley says. Thirty-eight thousand New York members elected to create their own personal medical record online when given the opportunity, the pilot found.

"While 360 Degree Health is a free program, there are premium components that would require an additional spend," Salinas notes. For example, if an employer wanted to implement a worksite wellness program, a health advocate, or a health coaching program, those would be available at an additional expense. There are also some very specific condition management programs, such as for low back pain, that are premium components," Salinas adds.

Because the site is populated by patient claims data, Wellpoint has created a program to translate coding lingo such as ICD-9 codes into lay terminology. "The doctor doesn't have to do anything extra to get the records to populate," Salinas says. In addition to the other services, 360 Degree Health provides Blue Choice on-call, making nurses available by phone, 24/7. The next rollout will take place for as many as 2.9 million Anthem BCBS members in Virginia in September, Salinas says.
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