Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Ohio, Selling to Columbia/HCA, Loses Name

AU.S. District Court judge has ordered Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Ohio to relinquish its trademarks–including its name. The health insurer, as one might expect, has filed an appeal. The national Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association sent the Cleveland-based company a letter saying that the plan’s license has expired and that, in any event, it violated its license when it decided to sell most of its assets for $299.5 million to the for-profit Columbia/HCA hospital chain. Under the merger agreement, if BCBS of Ohio loses its trademarks, the purchase price falls by $50 million. A spokesman for Columbia/HCA couldn’t say when the merger might be final.

As of Dec. 5, the plan was to cease using Blues marks in its marketing materials, stationery and subscriber cards. It’s not clear how current provider contracts will be affected.

The association’s board of directors is considering bids from other Blues plans to take over the region’s license. Cincinnati-based Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield is one possibility.

For several years the Blues association has undergone an internal debate about whether licensees may operate as for-profit plans. Two licensees
–Blue Cross of California and BCBS of Georgia–have converted fully to for-profit status, but the Ohio plan seemingly went too far.

Managed Care Ethics Center Comes to Boston

A health plan and a medical school in Boston have founded a program that will examine ethical problems in managed care.

It will be funded by the Harvard Medical School/Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Department of Ambulatory Care and Prevention, and by the school’s Division of Medical Ethics.

Internist Steven Pearson, associate director of the Center for Ethics in Managed Care, says many managed care organizations have wanted to address ethical issues, but often could not find adequate resources. “We are not going to be the judgment squad on other health plans,” says Pearson. “What we hope to do is help others come together to build a framework for self-assessment.”

Starting this month, the center is conducting an ethics survey of Harvard Pilgrim members about physician-patient relationships and about how they feel about the plan’s switch from staff-model to group-model status. The center may also assist in developing a so-called ethics report card that could be used either as a self-assessment tool or as part of an accreditation program.

The center also plans to sponsor a yearly conference modeled on its first conference, “Professionalism and Ethics in Managed Care,” which was held in early November.

Equifax Exits Credentialing Marketplace

Equifax Inc. is leaving the physician credentials verification business.

Better known for collecting personal credit and insurance information, the company in fact is selling all of its health information units. Equifax entered the health information sector a few years ago through acquisitions, and has spent millions nurturing its health care business since.

Considered a significant player in the credentials verification industry, with unquestionably the deepest pockets, the Atlanta-based company recently sold its Health Administrative Services unit to privately-held Centra Benefit Services of Dallas. It has an agreement to sell its Health Analytical Services to HCIA of Baltimore.

Equifax increased the value of Equifax Medical Credentials Verification Service in April when it launched the first on-line data base to allow immediate access to credentials.

Doctors in D.C. Say Single Payer Worth a Look

The Medical Society of the District of Columbia, a regional affiliate of the American Medical Association, says a single-payer health insurance system should be considered for the United States.

The House of Delegates of the nearly 3,000-member society supported the concept at a recent meeting. It doesn’t give blanket endorsement to the type of single-payer system found in Canada, but does consider it an option. Wayne D. Blackmon, M.D., society president, told the Washington Post that the endorsement reflects doctors’ deep frustration with managed care’s low reimbursement and expanded oversight.

The delegates stipulated that a single-payer system would have to meet 15 requirements, including universal and comprehensive coverage and maintenance of fee-for-service payments, physician autonomy and patients’ freedom to consult a specialist directly.

‘Managed Care’: Many Americans Baffled by Term

A new survey confirms the startling findings of a previous study: Americans don’t know or understand the term “managed care.”

Louis Harris and Associates found that 55 percent are unsure about the term, and about one-third don’t recognize “health maintenance organization.” Three-fourths say they’ve never heard of “fee-for-service health insurance.”

The study’s author, Stephen Isaacs, says that health plans, providers, employers and the government need to improve their educational efforts.

Tufts Medicare HMO Growing Fast in Boston

A half-dozen health insurance plans have their eyes on Boston’s vast Medicare population. The entire Massachusetts market has an estimated 900,000 Medicare-eligible people, many not in HMOs.

The largest Medicare HMO in the region is Tufts Associated Health Plans’ Secure Horizons. Tufts licensed the name and the program from PacifiCare Health Systems of Cypress, Calif.

According to the Health Care Financing Administration, which oversees Medicare, Tufts has 40,000 members, nonprofit Harvard Pilgrim Health Care counts about 36,000, Fallon Community Health Plan has 28,000 and U.S. Healthcare nearly 12,000.

Tufts recently expanded Secure Horizons’ physician panel by adding 150 primary care doctors covering Boston and the South Shore. It was the first major managed care contract for their network, Primary Care LLC, since they organized it last January.

Tufts began its Medicare program in late 1994. The plan’s primary care physician panel for its Medicare members has grown from 100 to about 1,000 today.

–Paul Wynn

‘Alternative therapies’ gain ground in HMOs

A recent survey of 80 HMOs in 13 states with mature managed care markets found that 58 percent plan to offer alternative therapies within two years. Acupuncture and chiropractic are most popular with patients and consequently most likely to be offered.

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