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Healthcare Roundup: Individual Insurance in Spotlight, Drive-Through ED Visits, Investors Save Chicago-Area Hospital, and More

Individual Mandate Challenged â€"Democratic Senators and liberal advocacy groups are questioning whether people of modest means will be able to afford health coverage if reform legislation includes an individual mandate along the lines being discussed in the Senate. Under the Senate Finance Committee's emerging bill, only people with incomes up to three times the poverty level, or $66,150 for a family of four, would be eligible for government premium subsidies. [Source: New York Times]

States Rein in Insurance Rate Hikes â€" Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan has agreed to a much lower rate hike for the 163,000 state residents who buy their own insurance than it had earlier proposed. Under strong pressure from state attorney general Mike Cox, the Blues will ask to jack up individual rates by "only" 21 percent, instead of by the 56 percent it had requested. But the state and the company are still deadlocked on a request for a 31 percent increase for supplemental Medicare coverage. Meanwhile, the Connecticut Department of Insurance rejected Anthem's requests for rate increases on individual policies of up to 32 percent, instead recommending that rates be boosted by 13 to 20 percent. Break out the champagne! [Sources: Detroit Free News, Hartford Courant]

Drive-Through ED Visits? - Stanford Hospital & Clinics, affiliated with Stanford University, is experimenting with a "drive-through" emergency department designed to treat contagious patients in the hospital's parking garage. The idea was tested recently as one method of preparing for a possible return of swine flu this fall and winter. Volunteer patients drove into the garage and were given paperwork to fill out. After having their vital signs checked, they were then triaged and treated by doctors and nurses. Finally, they were either discharged or admitted to the hospital. Think this won't spread in overburdened EDs? A Stanford spokesman said that the procedure reduced patient waiting time by 1.5 hours. [Sources: Wall Street Journal, San Jose Mercury News] Investors Save Chicago-Area Hospital â€" In another sign that investors are interested in failing hospitals that might benefit from an expansion of insurance coverage, Falcon Investors of New York has sunk $30 million into MetroSouth Medical Center in Blue Island, IL, near Chicago. Formerly owned by SSM Healthcare, a St. Louis-based nonprofit system, MetroSouth was said to be on its last legs when Falcon came into the picture. Now it's buying new imaging equipment and an EHR, renovating to provide private rooms to all patients, and recruiting additional primary-care physicians. [Source: Chicago Tribune]

Google, Microsoft Attack Federal IT Plans â€" The two technology giants questioned the government's plans to reward physicians for "meaningful use" of traditional electronic health records at a meeting of the President's Advisory Council on Science and Technology. Google chair and CEO Eric Schmidt suggested that the current approach will encourage health professionals to use outdated systems that could discourage innovation. Instead, Google and Microsoft, both of which operate PHR platforms, want the Administration to promote web-based medical records. [Source: iHealthBeat]

Health Wonk Review â€" See the splendid HWR edited by Jaan Sidorov over at the Disease Management Care Blog. Jaan has a way of making even the most wonkish blogs sound amusing.

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