Monday, August 4, 2008

Scone: Blues move toward retail clinics could present catch 22

Creating a good news/bad news scenario for employers offering Blues health insurance plans in Minnesota, BCBS Minnesota has announced it will waive copays for members who use retail clinics to receive medical care.

Certainly good news for employers and employees, as both groups will save. Care received at retail clinics is significantly less expensive than the traditional office visit, and can provide some much-needed breathing room for cost-squeezed employers -- even if it's only half a breath. And certainly, employees will save both time and money, as retail clinics generally have extended hours, minimal wait times, and the waived copay gives members the trifecta.

However, for members with chronic disease, retail clinics may not be the hat trick win they present for other patients. An August EBN report from McLean Robbins shows several medical experts say that, for individuals with complicated chronic illnesses like hypertension and diabetes, retail clinics lack the staff and expertise needed for effective treatment.

And there are more of those patients than ever before. In a sneak peek at the upcoming Sept. 1 EBN, a report from Leah Shepherd will reveal study results from Medco that show that in 2007, 51% of insured Americans were taking prescription drugs to treat at least one chronic health problem, and one-fifth of the population used three or more chronic drug treatments.

Not good news any way you slice it, but if more patients are pushed toward retail clinics, the news could become worse if chronic disease sufferers are not receiving the care they need and ultimately being more costly. There's a catch 22 if I ever saw one.

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