New York is one tough town; you've got to be good to survive. That's the premise behind a colorful ad campaign for HealthEase, a new HMO from Empire Blue Cross and Blue Shield.
One ad features a third-generation Brooklyn baker. The health plan must be good to make it in New York, he reasons. "You want a great cannoli, you come to New York.You want a health plan as good as HealthEase, you come here too. Hey, I mean, this is New York. It better be good."
In another ad, a proprietor of an upstate winery equates Empire's longevity to the HMO's quality. "Empire's been in New York for over 50 years. If any health plan knows the best doctors and hospitals, it's gonna be HealthEase."
Replete with images of wine tasting and cork popping, the commercial is an unusual approach by a health insurer to reach customers, even in a state where winemaking is an important industry. "I don't think anyone has come out and said, `Don't have a glass of wine,"' said John F. Kelly, an Empire spokesman.
When Empire Chairman Philip Briggs joined the embattled insurer last year, he vowed to move aggressively into managed care. Empire already has 110,000 customers in its HealthNet HMO. But with HealthEase, customers can opt out of the Blues' 28-county network and have healthcare questions answered 24 hours a day by the plan's Personal Health Advisor. HealthEase is designed to compete with market leaders such as U.S. Healthcare and Oxford Health Plans.
Confused.Apparently, 18 months of intense healthcare reform debate haven't raised the consciousness of everyone in the public about the nature of health coverage.
Sen. John Breaux (D-La.), an author of healthcare reform legislation, tells of being greeted in the New Orleans airport by a woman who obviously was worried about government intervention in the health industry but satisfied with her own coverage. "She said, `Whatever you do, don't let the federal government take over my Medicare,"' Mr. Breaux said.
Bigger must be better.Medaphis Corp.'s large appetite for small providers of billing, receivables and management services for hospitals and physicians isn't likely to be satisfied soon.
In 18 months, the Atlanta-based company has acquired nine companies. After completing the acquisition of Dallas-based AdvaCare, "we'll be 15 times as big as our next biggest competitor," said Randolph G. Brown, the company's chairman, president and chief executive officer. Mr. Brown spoke at Bear Stearns' recent healthcare conference in New York.
Despite its acquisition binge, Medaphis represents a slim 2% of what is "an extraordinarily fragmented market," Mr. Brown said. "We face a wonderful set of business problems. Scores of smaller companies...want to merge with us."
Cash back.Hospitals in Florida are listening more closely to patients who complain about high charges. They also are issuing more refunds to complaining patients.
Several hundred hospital patients in Florida last year received refunds after they formally complained to the state about their bills.
According to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, state hospitals paid out $225,000 to patients in 1993 who claimed they were overcharged. In 1992, hospitals only returned $30,000, the agency reports.
Agency spokeswoman Helen Webb said the increase in refunds can be attributed to patients who are becoming more aware of high prices and are scrutinizing their bills. "You can't believe how many calls we receive in the course of a day where someone will get their bill and say, `I was charged $255 for this, and I was in the hospital three years ago for the same thing and the charge was only $64,"' she said.
Since 1992, a number of hospitals in Florida have reorganized their customer-service departments to become more responsive to patient complaints about their bills.
State law does not allow the Agency for Health Care Administration to force hospitals to issue refunds. Instead, the agency intervenes for the patient and requests that the hospital be fair about the charges, Ms. Webb said. About one-third of the complaints filed with the state result in refunds.
Bean counters.Here's evidence that any product or service can be mastered by the latest materials management craze, standardization: The food service department at an unnamed hospital saved $1,138 of the $9,072 it spends each year on green beans. Here's how: It decided to buy only regular cut green beans, at a cost of 55.1 cents per pound, instead of regular, whole, Italian or French cut beans, at an average cost of 63 cents per pound. The change didn't lower quality, since each cut of bean is USDA Grade A, and it didn't appear to lower patient satisfaction.
The green bean conversion, along with less quirky examples, is included the VHA's guide to product standardization. Reducing the number of products used for the same purpose can save healthcare facilities money by simplifying ordering and lowering inventory, the Irving, Texas-based alliance said.
Diversifying.In an effort to prepare its 570 member hospitals and other healthcare providers for a changing work force, the St. Louis-based Catholic Health Association has published Diversity in the Workplace: A Resource Manual.
Citing statistics from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, the CHA said by the year 2000, women will represent 47% of all workers. Minorities and immigrants will hold 26% of all jobs. The 122-page manual offers more than a dozen consultants and several strategies related to work-force diversity.
"In these turbulent times, Catholic healthcare institutions are seeking to create environments which make culturally diverse patients comfortable," said John Curley, the CHA's president and chief executive officer.