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Employers becoming more fed up with insurers: MedCity Morning Read, Feb. 4, 2010

Health insurers are a convenient target for those who grouse about problems with the U.S. health care system, but a recent survey shows health insurers are losing popularity even among the employers they serve. The survey found that 59 percent of large employers were satisfied with their health plans, down from 64 percent the prior year.

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Highlights of the important and the interesting from the world of health care:

Employers becoming more fed up with insurers: Health insurers are a convenient target for those who grouse about problems with the U.S. health care system, but a recent survey shows health insurers are losing popularity even among the employers they serve. PriceWaterhouseCoopers found that 59 percent of large employers (those with an average of 11,000 employees) were satisfied with their health plans, down from 64 percent the prior year. On the bright side for insurers (kind of), satisfaction among small employers stayed the same as the prior year,yet that number was only 52 percent, American Medical News reports.

Employers’ top priorities from insurers are accuracy and timeliness of claims, getting discounts from providers and holding down administrative costs. But one consultant warned that provider discounts shouldn’t be a top-of-the-list item. Rather than trying to negotiate down what they pay hospitals and doctors, smart insurers are working to eliminate waste and fraud, and finding ways to help employers keep workers healthy and encourage physicians to manage patients’ health, the consultant said.

Hospitals unsure about social media strategies: While one expert challenges the results of a recent survey that found 90 percent of hospitals use social media in some way, what seems more clear is that few hospitals have much of a plan–or budget–for using social media, Healthcare IT News reports. The point of using social media, 92 percent of hospitals say, is to attract more patients. Yet only 13 percent say they’ve experienced success, according to the research by Greystone.Net. It seems hospitals could use a little guidance when it comes to social media, the numbers suggest.

Hospitals and health systems are struggling to find success with other goals of social media, with only small numbers reporting that they have been successful improving community relations (16.7 percent), customer service (8.7 percent), employee engagement (8.7 percent), and crisis management (4.5 percent).

Burned-out doctors: Primary care physicians are a pretty beleaguered bunch these days, constantly feeling pressure to jack up patient volumes to deal with reimbursements that are often far lower than what specialists receive for the same work. So burnout is inevitable, and a burned-out doctor is a less-effective doctor, writes KevinMD. A recent study on the topic showed that “”on days the doctors felt positive moods, they spoke more to patients, wrote fewer prescriptions, ordered fewer tests and issued fewer referrals. However, when doctors were in a bad mood, they did the opposite.”

That leads to lower-quality and higher-cost care for everyone. If recent trends continue, there’s not much reason for optimism that primary care burn-out will subside, Kevin writes.

Selling insurance across state lines: Kaiser Health News takes a look at a concept that’s likely to be included in whatever health overhaul package that passes–if anything passes: insurers selling coverage across state lines in the individual insurance market. Currently, consumers can buy policies only from insurers licensed by the states in which they live. The idea at first blush seems like a good one. After all, Americans are seemingly taught from birth to buy into the maxim that competition is always good. Since some states are dominated by one or two insurers, allowing a number of others to enter those states and sell competing policies should drive down the cost to insurers, the argument goes. Proponents say that some states impose restrictive laws that force insurers to drive up premiums, and allowing consumers to buy coverage from insurers in other states would lower their costs.

Alas, this type of thing brings to mind the excellent H.L. Mencken quote: “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”  Policies from insurers in lightly regulated states would abound, allowing for insurance company abuses and providing little protection to consumers. Further, it wouldn’t do much to cut costs. A 2005 Congressional Budget Office study found that ““if only those benefit mandates imposed by the states with the lowest-cost mandates were in effect in all states, the price of individual health insurance would be reduced by about 5 percent, on average,” so there goes the cost argument. Finally, health care is unlike other products; truly free markets just don’t exist.

“You get what you pay for in these policies (and) consumers won’t realize it until they are sick and it’s too late,” said Jerry Flanagan, health care policy analyst for Consumer Watchdog, a California consumer health group.