HEALTH INSURERS COMMIT TO ATM-LIKE INFRASTRUCTUREHealthTransaction Network Corp., Buffalo, N.Y., has received letters of intent from several health insurance and health care providers to develop a new nationwide health care transaction network, which is designed to make the process of receiving health care services easier, faster and more cost effective. HealthNow/BlueCross BlueShield of Western N.Y., Independent Health, Kaleida Health Systems, Catholic Health System, University Orthopedic Services, and Buffalo Medical Group have all committed to pursuing the creation of this industry network.

HealthTransaction Network plans to create the nationwide, neutral infrastructure that connects health care payers, providers and patients to facilitate and process transactions associated with the delivery of health care services. The shared network will closely resemble the electronic banking/ATM networks that revolutionized the financial services industry 30 years ago, according to the company. A new high-tech plastic card will be issued by health insurers to their members and used to initiate transactions at health care provider locations nationwide. The cards will incorporate biometrics for patient identification (fingerprint and signature recognition), debit card functionality for consumer co-pays and other out-of-pocket expenses, and state-of-the-art data storage capabilities.


Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield, the Des Moines, Iowa-based health benefits administrator, has launched BluesEnroll, a secure, online benefits administration tool supported by the Mount Pleasant, S.C.-based platform. With BluesEnroll, Wellmark offers its Iowa and South Dakota large groups and their employees a timesaving and convenient solution that is accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week. BluesEnroll provides benefit coordinators, administrators and payroll staff benefit administration tools and capabilities that enable them to exchange enrollment and eligibility information at the click of a button. Large group employees and their family members, insured by Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield, can access BluesEnroll to gather information about their benefits, make life event changes, such as adding dependents, and obtain confirmation of their benefit information.


CIGNA HealthCare, Bloomfield, Conn., has launched to enable consumers to compare CIGNA plans, medical and pharmacy costs and help them choose the plan best suited for them and their families. The Web site is designed to provide an unbiased and personalized comparison of CIGNA HealthCare plans that are available to individuals whose employers offer CIGNA's consumer-driven health plan product-CIGNA ChoiceFund. CIGNA ChoiceFund options include both a Health Savings Account (HSA) and a Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA). A key feature of is that it is customized to the employer and personalized to the employee's CIGNA health plan options so that much of the information is pre-populated for comparison purposes. The health plan provider also has teamed with Post-N-Track Corp., Middletown, Conn., to deliver faster claims submission and tracking for health care providers, billing entities and transaction aggregators. The new service is available through a direct, universal, secure Web-based transaction solution that administers, monitors, and controls these transactions. The new direct service is offered at no cost to CIGNA HealthCare providers and other business partners, who currently submit more than 70 million electronic claims annually.


Berkshire Life Insurance Co. of America, Mass., has doubled the sales leads generated from its Web site, as a result of a redesign developed by Ceonex Internet Consulting Inc., North Adams, Mass. A subsidiary of The Guardian Life Insurance Co. of America, Berkshire Life enlisted Ceonex to help solidify its brand message. Ceonex's first recommendation was to strengthen the focus on customer conversion. The steps taken included creating a positive emotional impact on viewers and improving navigation and other usability issues. On the technical end, Ceonex incorporated elements including search engine optimization, various navigation and orientation features, audience tools, and download time management. As a result of usability and content improvement, visitors are on the Berkshire Life Web site two to three times longer than before the re-launch. In addition, the site has risen to top in several categories on Google, including personal and business disability insurance, the companies claim.


To enhance its service capabilities for clients, The PMA Insurance Group, Blue Bell, Pa., has introduced a significant upgrade to its Web site functionality. PMA clients now have the option of reporting all lines of PMA claims electronically through the Internet. The new Internet Loss Reporting capability is designed to provide ease of doing business by enabling PMA customers to simply complete an electronic form on PMA's Web site, which is instantly transmitted to the company's customer service center. An electronic confirmation receipt is issued immediately, along with the claims number.


To help financial consultants build their 529 business during the back-to-school season, John Hancock Freedom 529 (formerly Manulife College Savings) introduced a new online tuition bill tool. The tool determines projected yearly tuition, room and board expenses based on the expected number of years until matriculation, and presents the information in the format of a college tuition bill. Financial consultants can choose a customized message to appear on the bill. The tool is available for registered users online at the resource center at John Hancock Freedom 529 is distributed by Manulife Financial Securities LLC, part of Toronto-based Manulife Financial Corp.


Independent insurance distributors in five Midwestern states are now writing auto insurance faster and more efficiently using a bridging system that connects MI Comparative rater, from MI-Assistant, an Eleva, Wis.-based division of Fiserv FSC Inc., with Safeco Corp.'s Safeco Now online sales platform. Independent distributors who use MI-Assistant's comparative rating platform enter key customer information, receive a comparative quote and then instantly bridge that information into Seattle-based Safeco's Safeco Now to complete the application. Distributors receive a bindable quote that can be faxed, e-mailed or printed for customer approval. The whole process can take as little as five minutes, according to Safeco. Once the customer information is bridged into Safeco Now, distributors also can cross-sell six other personal insurance, commercial insurance and surety products. Every insurance product application re-uses the personal information originally bridged into Safeco Now, cutting down processing time for every application.


Less than half of middle-market commercial insurance buyers use password-secured online technology offered by their carriers, and barely half of those who use the online service rate it as "good" or better, according to a recent online survey sponsored by Wausau Insurance Cos., Wausau, Wis. "This survey shows a disconnect between what insurance buyers value, and what some of them are actually getting from their insurance carrier," says Joe Gilles, president and COO of Wausau Insurance. The survey raises questions that should be explored with more comprehensive research, he adds, citing the following examples of the "value disconnect" the survey revealed about the online services provided by their commercial carriers: 78% of respondents placed a high value on "overall claim profiles" (i.e. showing cause of loss, nature of risk), yet only 52% said their carrier's profiles were easy to use; 74% of respondents placed a high value on "large claim cost analysis," yet only 50% said their carrier's online analysis service was easy to use; and 65% of those surveyed placed a high value on "identification of top loss causes," yet only 48% said their carrier's service was easy to use.

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