WellPoint's gift horse

By Bernie Monegain
12:00 AM

What could be better than free software? In recent months WellPoint Health Networks and its subsidiary Blue Cross Blue Shield of California have launched programs aimed at getting their network of doctors to switch their ways from paper to electronic. The idea, say the payers, is to jump start a transition aimed at reducing healthcare costs, improving accuracy and boosting patient care. It's all good.

But doctors tend to be a skeptical bunch, and they say the intent may be good, but the means of getting there is cumbersome and not entirely free.

"I believe part of the problem is that the physician would get a 1099 for the PDA," said Dr. Marcy L. Zwelling-Aamot, a family practitioner and the president of the LA county Medical Association. "The tax consequence was a big deal, particularly because the physician was given little choice about the PDA itself. I think there is a level of non-trust between the health plan and the MD."

WellPoint officials recently announced that Chicago-based Allscripts Healthcare Solutions and Dallas-based Zix Corp. would be the vendors for WellPoint's $40 million e-prescribing program.

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Dr. Steven Tucker, an oncologist in Los Angeles, who teaches medicine at UCLA and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, declined the offer. "I did not like the idea because I think it may become a requirement."

Some doctors in the Blue Cross network of more than 1,000 "safety net" physicians in California, who work with many poor and uninsured patients, were given a choice between the prescription improvement package, or a paperwork reduction package — a fully loaded Dell desktop computer and printer.

Dr. Vicky Valverde-Salas, a solo family practitioner in Oakland, Calif., chose the computer. He called the Blue Cross initiative "a very good first attempt," but he suggested that the e-prescribing program might have worked better if doctors were given vouchers toward paying for software of their choice.

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