Wholesale prices edge up
Wholesale prices for general medical and surgical hospitals rose a modest 0.1% in August, while physician prices inched up 0.2%., according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' Producer Price Index. Hospital prices increased 5.5% since August 2002, compared with 1.7% for physician services. Meanwhile, the PPI for finished goods rose 0.4% in August, up 3.4% from a year earlier.
Electronic claims plans sought
Provider organizations urged insurers to disclose their contingency plans for making sure claims processing and payments continue with minimal disruption in the transition to new regulations governing electronic healthcare transactions. The groups, including the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association, wrote a letter to their counterparts in the insurance industry asking them to press their members to make their contingency plans available to providers before Sept. 25. The new regulations, under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, take effect Oct. 16. Earlier, the CMS said it would decide by Sept. 25 whether to deploy a contingency plan, and the agency encouraged health plans to do the same. According to the CMS, only 11% of Medicare transactions met HIPAA standards as of mid-August.
Charity-care spending low
California hospitals, on average, spend less than 1% of their net patient revenue on charity care for the uninsured, according to a new policy brief commissioned by the California HealthCare Foundation, Oakland. In 1997 and 1998, the most recent years for which state data were available, California hospitals provided inpatient charity-care services to just 7,300 residents, or about 3% of uninsured people hospitalized in the state during the period, the study found. In addition, those patients' average adjusted length of stay and hospital charges were lower than that of Medicaid patients, suggesting hospitals may be trying to mitigate charity-care costs by discharging uninsured patients sooner, concluded researchers at Project Hope Center for Health Affairs, Bethesda, Md., which conducted the study.
System leaves insurance game
St. Thomas Health Services, Nashville, sold its stakes in two Tennessee PPOs to HealthSpring, Nashville, in a move that effectively gets the five-hospital, not-for-profit system out of the insurance business (See related story, p. 12). Terms of the deal weren't disclosed. The two plans, Signature Health Alliance and Community PPO, cover a combined 150,000 enrollees. Signature was jointly owned by St. Thomas and Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, which also sold its interest in the plan to HealthSpring. Community was 100% owned by Saint Thomas, which is a unit of 57-hospital Ascension Health, St. Louis.