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HEALTH PLANS: Kaiser will combine “systemness” with high-deductible plans, maybe.

There’s a pretty interesting interview with Kaiser Permanente CEO George Halvorson in the San Francisco Business Times. The tag line is that "Moving Kaiser beyond one-size-fits-all health coverage and ‘Dark Ages’ record-keeping, CEO George Halvorson reshapes a health-care giant for the 21st century". Well, maybe.

Kaiser appears–at the third time of trying–to be making a real go with its HealthConnect electronic medical records system. My spies in S. Cal tell me that the implementation is going really well. However, given that the original system I was shown (based on the old Oceania system) was pretty spiffy back in 1997, I’m not certain that the whole organization needed to wait until 2005-6 to get it right. But no matter, they are clearly ahead of the rest of American mainstream health care in EMR adoption. And they are making the folks at Epic much richer. Plus, it goes without saying that Kaiser has got the integration of incentives and purpose that the rest of the system lacks in dealing with the long term chronically ill. If I was chronically ill, I’d like to be a Kaiser member.

However, Halvorson’s other concern is one that doesn’t really have an answer. He worries that younger healthier people in his catchment area will be attracted to high-deductible plans and HSAs–not an area that Kaiser as a full service HMO has much experience with.

Kaiser is scrambling to move into this new realm by creating benefits packages with added cost-sharing elements, such as high-deductible plans and HSAs, he said. Hiring experts in insurance systems and billing has been a big priority recently. It is also hiring large numbers of new managers and workers with experience in areas such as actuarial work, insurance underwriting and the like.

Kaiser is trying to roll out these types of plans, but of course they don’t fit easily with its historic pre-paid group practice mentality. It also doesn’t fit in with the mathematics of insurance. High-deductible plans work well for an organization that doesn’t have to deal with the consequences of splitting the risk pool. Kaiser is a risk pool. It’s been the pioneer of community  rating forever.

The article suggests that the high-deductible plans are so far a minor irrelevant part of Kaiser’s business. If they stay that way, it’s probably OK. If they become a big deal, well all the actuaries in the world won’t make their chronically ill population healthier, and that could lead to real problems.

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