Healthcare Roundup: Experian to Rate Patients' Bill-Paying, UnitedHealth Insures Insurance, Fitch Downgrades Healthcare, and More

Last Updated Dec 11, 2008 10:25 PM EST

Experian buys SearchAmerica to study patient creditworthiness -- The credit-rating agency Experian said it will pay $90 million for SearchAmerica, a specialist in mining patients' financial data in order to help hospitals determine whether they're likely to pay their bills. SearchAmerica says its service is intended to help hospitals quickly register needy patients for financial assistance, although critics worry that it could also be used to delay or deny treatment for patients who may have trouble paying. [Source: WSJ]

Massachusetts puts hospital quality, cost data online -- A new state Web site offers previously confidential information on what health-insurance companies pay for various surgical procedures and measures of patient satisfaction and safety procedures at the state's hospitals. The program was mandated by the state's universal-coverage law. [Source: Boston Globe]

Fitch downgrades healthcare sector -- The rating agency said the recession with increase the number of uninsured and underinsured people, boost unpaid medical bills and limit demand for healthcare services as people cut back on drugs and elective procedures and delay more urgent care. [Source: Modern Healthcare]

Blue plan for diabetic care shows results -- Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield of Iowa and MDdatacor reported that an effort to improve diabetic care yielded significant results. Patients getting an annual HgA1C blood-sugar test rose to 90 percent from 46 percent, and those with an HgA1C rating less than eight increased to 75 percent from 37 percent. [Source: FierceHealthcare]

AHIP claims Medicare/Medicaid cost-shifting burdens families -- The health-insurance trade organization AHIP released a study claiming that costs shifted to private insurance to make up for skimpy Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements costs an average family of four $1,788 in extra health-insurance costs. Of course, AHIP would say that. [Source: AHIP]

Healthcare employment keeps rising -- While the overall economy lost 533,000 jobs in November, the healthcare sector added 33,800 jobs, an increase of 0.3 percent. [Source: FierceHealthcare]

AHA, AMA object to Medicare "never event" policy -- The American Hospital Association and the American Medical Association objected to Medicare's plan not to reimburse hospitals for medical errors such as operating on the wrong patient or the wrong side of a patient's body. The groups argue the policy is vague and needs to be better defined, such as by determining exactly which medical services it won't pay for in such cases. [Source: Modern Healthcare]

AARP "stealth fees" on health insurance burden seniors -- The senior lobby AARP has been under fire for marketing health-insurance plans underwritten by UnitedHealth Group that critics say misled seniors by failing to disclose coverage limits and gaps. Now Bloomberg reports that the organization benefits by keeping royalties and fees and passing along the extra costs to its members. [Source: Bloomberg]

Health-insurance companies offer universal coverage plan -- The health-insurance trade association America's Health Insurance Plans unveiled a plan to extend health coverage to all Americans. Following on its announcement that insurers would abandon medical underwriting in exchange for a federal mandate requiring all citizens to obtain insurance, the group proposed vague cost-control measures to be decided by a "public-private advisory group," creation of a nationwide "essential benefits" plan that would sidestep state regulation and be free of mandated benefits, tax credits for poorer Americans and expanding the federal programs Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program. AHIP was silent on community rating and the possibility of a federal alternative to private health insurance. [Source: AHIP]

UnitedHealth offers insurance for health insurance -- For the low, low price of 20 percent of an individual health policy, UnitedHealth Group will now allow individuals the right to obtain an insurance policy in the future even if they develop preexisting conditions. The move is not only a bet against the likelihood of a sweeping healthcare reform, it also does nothing for people who are already sick or disabled or who live in states where UnitedHealth doesn't sell individual policies -- including New York and New Jersey. [Source: NYT]
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    David Hamilton is the assistant managing editor of CNET News. He has been writing and editing business and tech coverage for about two decades -- the majority of that at the Wall Street Journal in both Tokyo and San Francisco. He is a two-time winner of the Overseas Press Club award and has written for numerous magazines and blogs, including Slate, Science, VentureBeat, CBS Interactive's BNET, California Lawyer and the New Republic.