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United predicts big savings in health IT adoption

A new report recommends widespread use of swipe card technology for health insurance ID cards and creating a national payment accuracy clearinghouse.

By Emily Berry — Posted July 28, 2009

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UnitedHealth Group's Center for Health Reform & Modernization has released a report outlining $322 billion that could be saved over the next decade by widespread adoption of health information technology.

The report, issued June 30, estimates that about half of the savings would accrue to physicians and other caregivers. Another 20% would benefit the government, and 30% would benefit commercial payers, according to the paper, which is devoted to getting the health insurer's voice heard in the health system reform debate (link).

The report's 12 recommendations include:

  • Widespread use of swipe card technology for health insurance ID cards.
  • Eliminating paper checks and paper remittance advice and replacing them with electronic transactions.
  • Integrating practice management systems and payer administrative systems.
  • Creating a national payment accuracy clearinghouse to settle overpayment and underpayment disputes.

A previous company paper identified a potential $540 billion in savings over the next 10 years if the government adopted some of the same practices United uses to encourage efficiency.

Health plans individually, and as a group, have been part of health system reform discussions in Washington, D.C. But it's unclear what, if any, impact recommendations like those in United's most recent report will have on the broader debate.

"It is an odd document to be issued in June 2009," according to an e-mail by Joel Shalowitz, MD, professor and director of the Health Industry Management program at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management. "The reason I am mystified by the report is that many, if not most, of their recommendations are either accomplished or in progress."

He said many of the recommendations already are covered in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which mandated changes to the way health care payments and records are handled.

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