Healthcare Roundup: Insurance Earnings Drop, Dems Back Daschle, and More

by Lesley Politi on February 6, 2009

WellPoint, UnitedHealth, Humana socked by medical costs, recession – Several of the country’s biggest health-insurance companies reported dismal results for 2008. UnitedHealth Group saw net income fall 36 percent in the year thanks to a large class-action settlement and decreases in commercial-insurance membership. WellPoint’s net income dropped 26 percent due to higher medical costs and membership losses, while Humana said higher-than-expected prescription-drug costs and a hit to its investment portfolio caused a 22 percent fall in net income. [Sources: Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Indianapolis Star, Cincinnati Business Courier]

Daschle still backed for HHS secretaryTom Daschle, President Obama’s pick to head the Department of Health and Human Services, retains the backing of key Senate Democrats despite a controversy over unpaid taxes. Daschle paid $140,000 in back taxes and interest in early January, claiming the oversight — mostly involving taxes owed on a car and driver provided by a former telecom executive — only came to light as he prepared for his confirmation hearing. Daschle told senators in a letter that he was “deeply embarrassed and disappointed” by the alleged error. [Sources: Washington Post, Modern Healthcare] UPDATE: Daschle withdrew his nomination. [Source: USA Today]

No public release for doctor-specific Medicare claims data — A federal appeals court ruled that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services do not have to release Medicare claims data for individual doctors in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. Consumers’ Checkbook, a nonprofit consumers-right organization, sued for access to the data in order to rate physicians in terms of procedure frequency and adherence to recommended-care guidelines and to show how much doctors with disciplinary histories or poor evaluations are paid. The court ruled that doctor privacy trumped the public benefit of making the information public. [Sources: Modern Healthcare, WSJ Health Blog]

Stimulus bill should boost healthcare IT use — The Congressional Budget Office estimates that IT-related incentives in the economic-stimulus package should greatly accelerate the adoption of healthcare IT systems over the next decade. Under current law, the CBO figures that 45 percent of hospitals and 65 percent of doctors will have “qualifying” IT systems in place by 2019. With the stimulus incentives, those figures rise to 70 percent and 90 percent, respectively. [Source: Health Data Management]

Healthcare IT reduces fatalities in big hospital study — Researchers found that electronic medical records and other healthcare IT systems cut patient mortality by 15 percent in 41 Texas hospitals studied in 2005 and 2006. Computerized order-entry systems also appeared to be associated with a 55 percent reduction in the odds of death during coronary-bypass surgery and a nine percent improvement in mortality due to heart attack. [Source: Modern Healthcare]

Employers brace for rush on COBRA coverage — A federal subsidy aimed to make group-health coverage under COBRA more affordable for laid-off workers could lead to a stampede for the program, analysts say. The measure, passed last week as part of the $819 billion economic-stimulus package that cleared the House, would pay 65 percent of COBRA premiums for those laid off between last September and this December.

Source: Business Insurance

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