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Healthy Skepticism

This month's editorial about health insurance by Katherine Burger, Editorial Director.

As sure as the return of the 17-year locusts, as predictably as a traffic back-up on the Long Island Expressway on a Friday evening in the summertime, every few years my employer changes health insurance providers. The process is disruptive, but not surprising. My company is no different from any other organization looking for ways to save money, get a better financial deal, and maybe—just maybe—improve services for employees.

Despite the hassle, at least for employees each time around the actual process of making the change becomes a little bit easier. Automated enrollment—via phone, and, increasingly, via Web site—has replaced some of the arduous and confusing paperwork. Online provider look-up has made it much easier to research and identify primary care physicians and desired specialists. And, once we areactually enrolled and interacting with the new carrier, an array of emerging Web-based tools such as portals and self-service functionality promises to streamline activities such as claims follow-up and prescription ordering.

What probably is not going to get any easier are things that have little, if anything, to do with technology: scheduling a doctor's appointment in a reasonable amount of time, provider billing that makes sense and is accurate, and—perhaps most important—simply getting adequate coverage for necessary treatment. Unfortunately (but not all that surprisingly), the current hot health insurance "buzz-phrase" of consumer choice actually translates for consumers into fewer choices at a greater cost. Yes, technology makes it easier to research those choices and to make a selection, but it doesn't make affording the choices any easier. From this healthcare consumer's perspective, the operational benefits of of IT ultimately appear pretty much as window-dressing.

Katherine Burger is Editorial Director of Bank Systems & Technology and Insurance & Technology, members of UBM TechWeb's InformationWeek Financial Services. She assumed leadership of Bank Systems & Technology in 2003 and of Insurance & Technology in 1991. In addition to ... View Full Bio

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