WellPoint, No. 2 US Insurer, Standardizes Cancer Treatment

Wednesday, 28 May 2014 07:20 AM

By Jason Devaney

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New moves by players in the health insurance industry are causing a standardized approach to treating cancer.

WellPoint Inc. is making the biggest effort, according to The Wall Street Journal, as it's offering to pay oncologists $350 per month for each patient that utilizes one of the insurance giant's recommended treatment options. WellPoint is the second larger insurance company in the nation and will begin the program on July 1 in six states, according to the Journal.

Three types of cancer — breast, lung, and colorectal — will be included in the program to start, with other types to follow.

Indianapolis-based WellPoint's approach is a newer way to treat cancer using treatment protocols that are supposed to be more cost effective and offer the right amount of benefits versus side effects, the Journal said. Other companies are beginning to offer similar programs.

The Cleveland Clinic's Taussig Cancer Institute Chairman Brian J. Bolwell said his clinic will take part in the WellPoint program "where it makes sense," according to the Journal. He added the clinic would welcome the $350 monthly payment per patient, but said the Taussig Cancer Institute is putting together its own version of treatment protocols.

"We generally don't like to practice by insurance company, we practice by patient," he said.

Americans, according to the Journal, spent $37 billion on cancer drugs in 2013 — more than for any other ailment. When it comes to doctors getting reimbursed by insurance companies as it relates to cancer treatment, the system is less than perfect.

"Oncologist reimbursement at the moment is a broken system," Richard Schilsky, the chief medical officer of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, told the newspaper. At the moment, doctors are paid by Medicare and the insurance companies based on the price of the drugs they dispense and administer.

The WellPoint system, says the company, will streamline the process. And it claims the program will save 3 percent or 4 percent in costs.

WellPoint saw a big boost in its overall health insurance enrollees thanks to the Affordable Care Act. According to Forbes.com, the company added more than 400,000 customers in the first quarter of 2014 because of Americans signing up on the Obamacare exchanges.

"Our membership is growing across our platforms and we are pleased with the progress we have seen in the exchanges," WellPoint CEO Joe Swedish said in the Forbes story.

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