Health Plans Prepare For HIPAAMost health plans are actively pursuing strategies to meet the electronic data interchange (EDI) and security components of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), even in advance of final regulations. However, about one-third of the plans that were surveyed are deferring certain steps until final requirements are known. That's the conclusion of a new study by Washington, D.C.-based American Association of Health Plans (AAHP) and Long Beach, Calif.-based First Consulting Group Inc. Health plan executives responding to the survey identified the most daunting challenges: organizational readiness, security/confidentiality, staff resources/necessary skill sets and funding availability. Least important is the ability to demonstrate return on investment.

State Farm Expands Agent Bank Training

State Farm Insurance Cos. finalized agent training for banking products in six additional states-Alabama, Colorado, Indiana, Mississippi, Utah and Wyoming. Consumers in all 50 states currently can open a deposit account and apply for a home loan through the company's Internet-based bank or by using the company's call center. However, consumer loans are only available in states where the Bloomington, Ill.-based company's agents have been trained. About 1,900 agents in Arizona, Illinois, Missouri, Nevada and New Mexico have received such training. The company intends to have agents trained in banking services in all 50 states by year-end.

IDMA Releases Data Exchange Standards

Calling the initiative essential to enhancing e-commerce initiatives, the Insurance Data Management Association Inc. (IDMA) has released two automation standards. New York City-based IDMA's claims data exchange standard was established to foster quick and seamless online exchange of policy and claims data between the association and its trading partners. The association's policy data element dictionary is geared to provide a "compendium of policy data elements that can be used as a tool to develop data exchange standards, and at the same time be flexible enough to eventually reference other industry data standards," IDMA states. A draft of the claims data exchange standard and the policy data element dictionary are available on the IDMA Web site, http://idma.org/DS-announce.html.

Priceline.com, W.R. Berkley Abort Startup

Citing "unfavorable market conditions," Priceline.com Inc., and W.R. Berkley Corp., an insurance holding company based in Greenwich, Conn., have scrapped plans to create a company designed to sell auto insurance over the Internet. The move follows Priceline's decision in December to "indefinitely postpone" the introduction of three new offerings to its "Name Your Own Price" service-business-to-business, term-life insurance and cellular telephone services. Norwalk, Conn.-based Priceline.com's Internet pricing system provides services across four product categories-travel, automotive, personal finance and telecommunications. The auto insurance venture, announced in August, had no employees, and investments made into it are expected to be returned. Priceline's stock has plummeted in recent months, and the company plans to focus on its core travel business.

NAII: Federal Rules To Impact Auto Carriers

When implemented, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) final rules for health information privacy protection will impact how auto insurance companies do business and will substantially add cost, delay claims handling and increase the opportunity for fraud, according to the National Association of Independent Insurers (NAII), Des Plaines, Ill. "HHS's final privacy rule could deliver a knock-out punch to auto insurers on first- and third-party liability issues because of the roadblocks it places on property/casualty insurers' ability to obtain information for routine claims handling," says Nancy Schroeder, assistant vice president of workers' compensation for the NAII.

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