Blue Shield, Anthem of California bring health insurance into the 21st century


It's nice to see competitors working together for the good of the consumer. That's exactly what two of California's biggest insurers--Blue Shield of California and Anthem Blue Cross--did a few weeks ago by jointly launching a new electronic records database.

As a California resident, this has a strong potential to directly impact my own healthcare. The reason I'm so excited about the database, dubbed Cal Index, is that it will pull together consumers' hospital records, plus lab, pharmacy and outpatient information into one electronic location. The Index will be available for consumers and providers alike.

Even if you don't live in the Golden State, I would wager a bet that the deal will have a ripple effect across the country. But don't take my word for it. The CEOs of the insurers said they aim to invite other insurers and their members to participate in the network.

"Ultimately our goal is to have all payers and all providers participating in Cal Index," Blue Shield CEO Paul Markovich said during a call with reporters, according to Kaiser Health News. "We are open to anyone and everyone who can and will contribute data."

If this plan can successfully come to fruition--the insurers are aiming to launch by the end of the year--then I will be able to check out my health records online whenever I want. In this day and age, you would think that's a commonplace occurrence. It is the 21st century, after all, and most other large industries already offer all kinds of technology and online access to secure, private information.

Instead, I'm ecstatic at the idea of finding all my health info in one place. I'm even more excited that all my different doctors will be able to see that same exact data. Such sharing of health records is an aspect of the healthcare industry that's enormously lacking.

Imagine the medical mistakes, the misdiagnoses, the unnecessary procedures and tests that it will eliminate. Consider the massive amounts of money that it could save by removing waste from the system.

Obviously lowering costs is a huge perk to developing and implementing the Cal Index for the insurers themselves. But I would argue Anthem and Blue Shield will also gain from the publicity of the database, potentially drawing more new members during the next open enrollment season for health insurance exchanges.

If I was shopping for health coverage come November, I would absolutely take the availability of the Cal Index into consideration. And I might even pay a little more for my health plan if it meant that I had access to my medical records all in one place.

Since I'm not in the market for a new health plan this fall, I'll be sitting on the sidelines, eagerly observing how Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of California perform during the next exchange enrollment. Will consumers gravitate to their health plans? Will the Cal Index be an effective recruiting tool? We'll have to wait a few months to find out, and you can be sure that I'll be reporting on it. - Dina (@HealthPayer)