Electronic prescribingusing computer technology to write and transmit prescriptions between physicians and pharmacies, as well as to view medication histories, costs and formularieshas the potential to revolutionize medicine by reducing errors and improving the monitoring of patients responses to treatment. It also has the potential to save insurers big money by boosting adherence to formularies, and steering patients and their physicians to generic alternatives.
The money-saving possibilities of e-prescribing have been proven through insurer-sponsored pilot projects around the country over the past five years. Today, insurers, and especially Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans, are pushing e-prescribing to the next levelwidespread use, acceptance and federal mandates.
On Jan. 31, representatives from major Blues insurers met in Washington to discuss, among other things, e-prescribing. In consultation with Capitol Hill staffers, the purpose of the meeting was to accelerate lobbying efforts to push for wider adoption of the prescribing technology. Namely, Blues plans are urging Congress and the Bush administration to mandate e-prescribing for Medicare providers this year, and to support lifting a ban on e-prescribing of controlled substances such as pain medications and antidepressants.
The week prior, the national Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association unveiled its five-point plan for universal healthcare. Among the recommendations to reform healthcare is e-prescribing. Scott Serota, president and chief executive officer of the Blues association, said at a news conference that a Medicare mandate on e-prescribing is a key step in getting universal coverage. The association declined to comment further.
Many of the 39 Blues plans around the nation, which collectively cover roughly 99 million Americans, have bankrolled e-prescribing initiatives over the past five years with varying success.
Highmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield, based in Pittsburgh, ran afoul of the Internal Revenue Service in 2006 after the agency objected to the insurers plan to give $26.5 million to participating physicians because some of them work in for-profit practices. And a $43 million WellPoint technology program launched in 2003 resulted in fewer than 1,000 physicians agreeing to try e-prescribingout of 20,000 participants.