MGMA calling for widespread swipe card adoption

The technology could pave the way for real-time claims adjudication and would eliminate administrative tasks and reduce clerical errors.

By Pamela Lewis Dolan — Posted Feb. 11, 2009

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The Medical Group Management Assn. is kicking off a yearlong campaign for widespread adoption of swipe card technology, which it says can save the health care industry a collective $1 billion a year.

The group is encouraging payers to convert all patient ID cards to ones with magnetic strips and is pushing for physicians to use card readers. The third part of the plan is to convince vendors to comply with the mandates of the Workgroup for Electronic Data Interchange when developing swipe systems. That will allow card readers to interface with other technologies, such as practice management systems, thus enhancing their capabilities.

"We're launching Project SwipeIT because the adoption of this technology is long overdue," said William F. Jessee, MD, president and CEO of MGMA, in a statement. Dr. Jessee says swipe card technology could save millions of dollars each year by eliminating redundant administrative tasks.

At most practices, the administrative staff makes photocopies of the patient's ID card as the patient fills out paperwork to identify themselves. These tasks could be eliminated with the technology, which would give the practice all the information with a swipe of the card. The cards cost about 50 cents each to produce. Card readers can be purchased by a practice for about $50 to $200.

The technology will also pave the way for real-time claims adjudication as a swipe of the card could generate information on a patient's benefits, co-pays and coinsurance rates, according to technology advocates.

Most insurance cards do not have machine-readable elements. But a limited number of payer-initiated pilot programs have proved successful.

Humana Health launched a swipe card pilot program two years ago in Tampa, Fla., and Jacksonville, Fla. The project quickly spread statewide, then to seven other states.

Kenneth Willman, director of provider interface for Humana, said through Humana's partner, Availity, physician practices can get eligibility information on patients and create a claim form in real time. Availity was formed through a joint partnership between Humana and BlueCross BlueShield of Florida but is now independent.

Once the basic technology is in place, it can be built upon to help facilitate transactions such as real-time claims adjudication, Willman said. Once more payers and physicians implement the WEDI-compliant technology, the industry will start to see the real benefits, he said. Physicians could swipe the card, even if the patient belongs to a non-preferred payer group, and could receive the same eligibility and benefit information.

UnitedHealthcare has also adopted the technology and says it has more than 20 million members with electronic ID cards. United spokesman Daryl Richard said that because of the technology, which it adopted five years ago, the company is now processing a small percentage of those members' claims in real time. The cards also allow physicians, with patient permission, to access patient personal health records.

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