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Healthcare Roundup: Industry Asks Congress To Go Easy, Target Supports Employer Mandate, United and Cisco Team on Telehealth, and More

Healthcare Leaders Are Nervous â€" A broad cross-section of healthcare companies, including hospitals, physician groups, pharmaceutical firms, and device makers, plus a few insurance companies, sent the Congressional leadership a letter begging them to take a centrist stance on healthcare reform. The 42 members of the Healthcare Leadership Council asked Congress to pass a bill that would require every individual to have health insurance; would eliminate pre-existing condition exclusions; would reform health-care payment methods; would "invest in" better preventive and chronic care; and would expand the use of health IT. The group strongly opposes the public plan option that many Democrats say is a sine qua non of reform. [Source: Healthcare Leadership Council]

Employers Socked With Higher Costs â€" Think health insurance costs too much? PricewaterhouseCoopers forecasts another 9 percent increase next year for U.S. employers. Companies with higher-paid workers will undoubtedly pass much of that rate hike onto their employees; but those with a lot of minimum-wage employees have nowhere to go. That may be one reason why Target, the second-largest U.S. retailer, and Kelly Services, a temporary worker agency, just joined Wal-Mart in supporting an employer mandate to provide coverage if cost controls are part of the package. [Sources: Healthcare Finance News, Kaiser Health News]

National Telehealth Network - UnitedHealth Group and Cisco are partnering to build the first national telehealth network, which will give patients access to physicians and specialists when in-person visits are not possible. Combining audio and video technology, the network is expected to expand physicians' reach into rural, urban and other underserved areas. [Source: UnitedHealth Group]

Franchising Urgent Care â€" Urgent-care centers, or "doc in a boxes," are fairly common in some areas of the country. But a Maryland ER physician, Scott Burger, has a vision of franchising urgent-care centers across America, selling the franchises to anybody who has $500,000, whether or not they have a healthcare background. So far, he and his partners have opened one Doctors' Express Center in Towson, MD, and have sold a franchise in Temple, TX. The aim is to create a chain of 3,000 centers. That would certainly give retail clinics a run for their money--if it happens. [Source: USA Today] Influential Advocate For Primary Care â€" President Obama's pick for U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Regina Benjamin, is a primary-care physician who spent two decades serving rural Alabamans. Recently, she has been working for an institute that studies healthcare disparities for the National Institutes of Health. Several years ago, she publicly blasted the government for restricting doctors' ability to treat uninsured and Medicaid patients. [Source: Wall Street Journal]