Health Net, California's third-largest health insurer, accidentally e-mailed the names of 12,000 enrollees to the wrong doctors, violating patient confidentiality.
The Woodland Hills, Calif.-based insurer blamed the December mistake on a computer glitch that matched patients being treated for depression and anxiety with the wrong doctors.
After some 5,000 physicians received the e-mail, Health Net sent another letter asking all doctors to destroy the patient list and return a form acknowledging they had done so. Most have responded, and future mailings will be reviewed more closely to ensure they go to the right doctors, a company spokesman says.
Insurers routinely create lists of patients who could benefit from specific treatments, drugs or preventive-care programs, then send the lists to doctors. But some say it's a dangerous practice.
"Although this private information was disclosed to doctors, it's not your doctor who got the information," says Stan Dorn, project director of Health Consumer Alliance in Oakland, Calif. "It could be a doctor who goes to your church or synagogue. It could be a family friend. Consumers should be able to trust that private information will stay private."
PPOs for pets. Just when you thought managed care was going to the dogs . . . pet PPOs may be the newest trend to hit employer benefit packages. Rush North Shore Medical Center in Skokie, Ill., began offering its employees a "membership savings program" for their pets this month. Through the program, members get a 25% discount on services from participating veterinarians and up to 50% off items and services such as pet food and pet grooming.
"There are different types of needs for every employee, and we thought that this might be one of those," says Rubi Segura, Rush's director of compensation and benefits.
Pet Assure, Dover, N.J., offers a pet provider panel of 2,000 vets in 46 states. The 4-year-old company says it counts Tenet Healthcare Corp. in Santa Barbara, Calif., as one of its 50 employer clients nationwide.
"There is an increasing trend in America that pets are becoming a part of the family," says Sue Prelozni, Pet Assure's director of business development.
Segura says she was pleasantly surprised at the November employee benefit fair at 226-bed Rush when more than 10 employees signed up to pay the $7 monthly fee to access Pet Assure's membership program. Rush does not pay any portion of the program for its employees but handles the administrative coordination.
Only about 1% of companies offer pet insurance, according to the Society for Human Resources Management's 2000 Benefits Survey. Prelozni says Pet Assure's PPO-type program is different from pet insurance products, which tend to have limitations on the type, age and health condition of the pet being covered.
With 65% of American households owning pets, Pet Assure hopes employees everywhere start barking for its services. "As it gets more and more competitive among employers, they need benefits that speak to their employees," Prelozni says.
One less Republican in Washington. At least one Texas Republican probably won't be following George W. Bush to Washington this month. He's William Reynolds Archer, M.D., son of retiring U.S. House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Archer.
The younger Archer was forced to resign as Texas health commissioner last October after he made racially insensitive comments to a black associate. The comments were recorded on tape and later printed in the Houston Chronicle.
The event ended a stormy three-year tenure. Earlier, Archer had stunned some members of the state's healthcare community after telling the New York Times that health insurance isn't essential. He also apologized last year after news reports quoted him saying Texas has a high teen pregnancy rate because its Hispanic population did not believe "that getting pregnant is a bad thing."
Citing Archer, San Antonio Express-News writer Jan Jarboe Russell recently warned non-Texans not to expect much from Bush's appointees, given the president-elect's "laid-back, passive approach" in Texas.
Dot-com confusion. In the roller coaster world of dot-coms, a Cedar Park, Texas, company called e-MDs sent a press release reminding "members of the e-MDs community -- reporters, writers, editors" of the difference between them and a recently deceased member of the e-health universe. The release explains that though eMD.com, a Norcross, Ga.-based company that offered integrated medication management solutions, has recently bit the cyber dust, e-MDs, whose Web site address is e-MDs.com, is still cruising down the information highway.
"Be assured that e-MDs, a financially sound and prosperous entity, is positioned for the long haul in the arena of analyzing and evaluating electronic medical records . . . We expect that eMD.com will not be confused with e-MDs, as we currently (set) and will continue to set high standards for the truly integrated electronic medical record at a reasonable price," says David Winn, M.D., e-MDs' president and chief executive officer.
OK, now for a recap. The main differences between e-MDs.com (living) and eMD.com (dead), besides their pulses and respective lines of business, are a dash and an `s.'
Stark reality. "If as many accountants served (prison) time as members of Congress have, we'd have a lot less fraud. If the chairman of KPMG spent some time in the slammer, he could probably get $5 or $10 apiece for completing prisoner tax returns and do quite well. If he did the guards' tax returns he might even qualify for a single room." -- U.S. Rep. Fortney "Pete" Stark, (D-Calif.), ranking minority member on the House Ways and Means Committee, upon learning that the U.S. Justice Department last month joined a civil whistleblower fraud lawsuit alleging Medicare cost reporting fraud by accounting giant KPMG.