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H1N1 virus costing insurers millions

Health plans this summer already were spending tens of millions of dollars on claims they said stemmed from the influenza A(H1N1) virus, and executives at the largest health plans said they expect to spend more this winter for vaccines and treatment -- exactly how much, they aren't sure. Among those planning for a significant bump in spending from H1N1 is WellPoint, the country's largest health insurer by membership, with about 35 million people enrolled in its plans. "It is very difficult to predict whether you will have an above-normal flu season," WellPoint Chief Financial Officer Wayne DeVeydt said at a Morgan Stanley-hosted investor conference Sept. 14. "But we have seen enough this year with H1N1." UnitedHealth Group, which has about 32 million members, spent $50 million on claims related to the virus in the second quarter of this year, mostly from doctors testing patients for the virus, not subsequent hospitalizations that would indicate cases where a member became seri ...

Michigan hospital to cut physician pay

Beaumont Hospitals in suburban Detroit will reduce the salaries of staff physicians as part of a plan to cut costs by $10 million, according to a statement issued Sept. 29. Managers and executives also will see pay cuts. "Through outstanding expense management and better revenue management, we had gone from a $30 million loss last year to a positive $13.8 million net operating income through the end of June this year," said Kenneth J. Matzick, Beaumont president and CEO. "But our progress has been eroded by market conditions, such as continued job and insurance loss, below-budget patient volumes and a continued shift to government insurers that pay us less. We were at risk of losing money for a second year and can't let that happen." Layoffs of clinical staff are still rare, and even rarer are reports of salaries, including those of physicians, either being frozen or reduced across the board. Physician pay cuts "are probably the last thing [hospitals] want to do," said F. Remi ...

850,000 physicians urged to be on lookout for signs of identity theft

A file containing unencrypted identifying information for every physician in the country who contracts with a BlueCross BlueShield-affiliated insurance plan was on a laptop computer stolen from an employee of the national association in Chicago. The employee-owned computer was taken from a car Aug. 27, yet notification of doctors didn't start until October. The BlueCross BlueShield Assn. told its affiliated plans a week after the theft. But "because of the way we're set up," said Blues spokesman Jeff Smokler, the 39 member plans did not start telling the affected 850,000 doctors until more than a month later As of mid-October, some physicians still had not received letters about the data breach, Smokler said. Doctors who weren't among the estimated 187,000 whose Social Security numbers were included in the data might not be informed at all. Unlike with patient data, there are no state and federal laws that require physicians to be told in a specified number of days of a data b ...