Expert: Consumers need better access to health-care info

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A top executive for Cigna Healthcare yesterday called for stepped up efforts to empower consumers to be savvy shoppers of health care to stem spiraling costs and rescue a system in crisis.

In a speech delivered with an evangelist's zeal, Joseph Gregor, general manager for Cigna in Western Pennsylvania and Ohio, noted that Americans spend more than $2 trillion a year on health care -- more than on food, clothing and national defense combined.

If current trends continue, future generations will be devoting 100 percent of their salaries to health-care benefits, he said, which "doesn't leave a lot for Christmas."

"The U.S. health-care system is in crisis," Mr. Gregor thundered to a crowd of company health plan executives during a forum at the Marriott City Center, Downtown, that was sponsored by the Pittsburgh Business Group on Health.

He likened the current system to an open bar at a wedding where free drinks often lead to overindulgence.

"We've insulated consumers from health-care costs. As a result, they've consumed a whole bunch of it."

Insurers and employers should work harder to create a competitive market for health-care services by providing patients with better data on costs and quality of care, Mr. Gregor said.

Simply put, he said, health-plan members needing a non-emergency appendectomy, for example, should be able to quickly find out "who does it well and what it costs."

Making data on quality and costs easily accessible is difficult and complicated, he acknowledged, "but there is a lot of room for improvement from where we are today."

He said Cigna is focusing its initial efforts on providing members with information on procedures with highly-variable costs, such as MRIs, which can vary in price by 300 percent or more.

He also urged insurers to do much more to become "health coaches," giving members personalized information about health risks, lifestyle changes and treatment options.

Perhaps, he said, a nurse might contact an overweight patient to explain he has "five years to lose 50 pounds or will get type II diabetes that will shorten his life."

To drive down skyrocketing costs faster, Mr. Gregor said, "we must reach into people's lives sooner" so they become vigilant about preventative care.


Patricia Sabatini can be reached at psabatini@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3066.


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